The women at this seminar grew and thrived and the pivotal point in their growing was the realization that they deserved the chance to learn.

I was left paralyzed and he went away. Yes, I am married. Four years ago my husband crashed our car into a tree and now I'm a quadriplegic. He said that of all the things I had to break it would have to be my spine. He says that's typical of me.

I, too, am married but I am terrified. At my home it is Carnival now and I know that since I am not there to watch him, he will sleep with other women. But I had to come here, it was so important for me to come here and learn. This is my life! But tonight I will call him again.

The women at this seminar grew and thrived and the pivotal point in their growing was the realization that they deserved the chance to learn. After believing for years that it was pointless for a "hopeless cripple" to acquire an education, they realized that their futures and their development lay in empowerment through organizing and educating themselves. Juanita, whose costume jewelry flashed and long nails gleamed vivid red, had been forced to stay shut in her house from the time she had gotten polio at the age of eight to the time when her parents died and she went, illiterate and socially undeveloped, to live with her sisters. The sisters had taught her beauty secrets and let her come often to visit the jewelry store they owned. But now, Juanita was trying to organize a group of disabled women and she needed to learn communication skills--how to write a newsletter, how to write reports, how to write to politicians. She needed to learn skills that would allow her to cross to the land of the living.

The opening plenary panel at the Seminar
The opening plenary panel at the Seminar

And what did I learn? All too often, when projects between developed and developing world countries are arranged for "mutual gain," developed world citizens smugly believe there is nothing that they could possibly learn from people living in "undeveloped places." I thought about this when I was flying to little El Salvador which looks, from the air, like a crinkled piece of emerald green foil. Although I was sure that I'd learn something, I never realized how much newly-gained empowerment I would carry home with me.

All week, I watched these Central American women in admiration. I saw these passionate people speak and interact with an air of freedom, a lack of inhibition and self- consciousness that was both beautiful to behold and quite foreign to me. I realized the extent to which people in our society are burdened with the weight of creating an impression which we hope, when filtered through the minds and consciousness of those who behold us, is flawless. The women at this conference, free of probing, cruel, demoralizing self-doubt, spoke plainly and sincerely about their ideas. The result was always clear, straightforward, free and beautiful. Wild Vielka, timid Carmen, business-like Ruth; each woman said what they had to say and did not, for a moment, waste time worrying about their image.

And in this way I, too, learned about communication. We all cross the water on stepping stones of our own. They lie within us in the form of our talents, strengths and individuality, and they can be illuminated through the light of other strengths, other minds, other cultures.

Susan Gray Dueck works as a Program Coordinator for the Humanities and Professional Studies Area of the University of Manitoba's Continuing Education Division. She has an invisible disability called Glanzmans Thrombasthenia, a condition affecting blood clotting and platelet function. The international anthology mentioned in this article was edited by herself and Diane Driedger and will be published by gynergy books in the fall of 1992.

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