It has been almost half a year since I have completed my 18 months Atlas Corps Fellowship, returned to my home country and to the non-profit where I was working prior to the fellowship. And quite recently a friend of mine has asked whether I actually use whatever I learnt and saw through the Atlas Corps fellowship in my work over here, in Armenia. It was a good question; it sort of made me to pause for a moment and to think about it from very practical viewpoint.

Due to preceding professional background my fellowship was focused on disability issues, and I was lucky to be hosted by the great organization – Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, the biggest provider of social services in MN. The fellowship proved to be an interesting and useful experience. But what actually came in handy for my current work, how can I better contribute to advocating disability issues in my country as a result of the Atlas Fellowship?

Well, here it is – first of all, I had a great chance to see from within the work of an organization with 150 years of experience in championing social issues; how they strive to deliver only the best to people they serve, how they exercise “out of the box” thinking, how they maintain and add more and more supporters, how different departments work together. It was great to see how they communicate goals to employees and to the community, how they build strategies of further growth and development, how relationship with the board is built. This last part proved to be surprisingly important for me – shortly after completing my fellowship and returning to Armenia I was invited to join the board of our non-profit. It was an awesome moment of excitement and joy for me, which I can’t underestimate or deny.

I can certainly claim that my stepping up from being an employee to becoming the board member is definitely one of the outcomes of my Atlas Fellowship. Right now we (the operations team and board members of “Full Life” NGO) are in the very middle of developing strategic plans for both long-term and short term perspectives. Thus reflecting upon my own contribution into strategy development of our non-profit I would like to thank the Lutheran Social Service of MN and Atlas Corps for I learned a lot and now I am applying it!

Another very important learning outcome of my fellowship is specifically related to disability issues and disability advocacy. In 2010 Armenia ratified the UN Convention on Right of Persons with Disabilities – giving advocates of equal opportunities more leverage to pressure authorities in bringing our legislature and traditional practices into compliance with the principles of accessibility for all. Our non-profit and other disability advocates in Armenia are actively initiating major changes in many areas of social inclusion; particularly our non-profit intends to initiate lobbying for piloting new system of financial support for people with disabilities.

This new system will be based upon the person-centered approach, with careful assessment of individual needs and abilities. Unfortunately, Armenia still uses “one size fits all” approach in supporting people with disabilities. The new person-centered system that our non-profit intends to advocate and promote greatly considers components of “My Life, My Choices” initiative of Lutheran Social Service of MN, my host organization, aimed at self-determination, greater independence and control over one’s life for person with disability. QED – this is exact demonstration of how experience gained through the Atlas Fellowship in Minnesota directly contributes to social change in Armenia!

Saying this I would like to address my fellow Fellows – past, present and future – folks, it is a privilege to be connected to you, to be part of this growing network. Wherever we come from and whatever experience we have, we all learn from each other and contribute to each other’s success and accomplishments, either directly or indirectly. I want to wish best of luck to the Class 14 which is about to start an intriguing journey. Welcome! Make the most of your time!

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