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Dayro Reyes Acosta, an international participant in the Ruderman Inclusion Summit held earlier this month, manages the Office for Projects and External Affairs of Asopormen, a social service agency based in Bucaramanga, Colombia, dedicated to helping people in poverty and advancing disability inclusion. Asopormen serves more than 1,100 children and youth with special and inclusive education (focused on work skills and human development), medical programs, arts and crafts education, and athletics.
The Ruderman Family Foundation interviewed him after the Summit.
RFF: Tell us about Asopormen
Dayro: We are celebrating our 50th anniversary this month. The organization does direct service work in education and health. Our Executive Director, María Eugenia Acuña, has been with the organization for 32 years. I’ve been with the organization since I was 14 years old, for more than 18 years. When I started at the organization, there were only nine staff members. Today there are 220 staff with expertise in education, health, and administration. These are the unsung heroes who do critical work every day. Inclusion is one of several programs.
RFF: What is the current state of disability inclusion in Colombia?
Dayro: Of course we are not as advanced as the United States, but the country is making progress. We are in a state of transition. Several years ago the country passed legislation requiring inclusion in schools, among other things.
The law did not tell us how to do it. Unfortunately, local governments often lack the expertise and will to implement the law. We’ve been doing everything we can to help the process along and make the law a reality.
RFF: Tell us about your inclusion work.
Dayro: We run a program in the schools for 458 kids with disabilities. The law mandated that schools include kids with disabilities in the classroom. In the beginning teachers resisted. Most teachers didn’t know how to teach and manage special needs. It was a real war. They thought that it wasn’t their responsibility and that it would distract from their teaching.
We were able to win over much of the educational establishment and became a model for other school districts. We created a widely acclaimed training program. We brought experts from other Latin American countries with more experience in inclusion. We brought social workers, teachers, psychologists, secretaries of education, and principals. Many teachers came to understand that if it could be done in other countries, it could be done here, too. Now teachers want the inclusion programs in their schools and classrooms.
The training program has become so popular that other school districts have sent teachers. They are often skeptical and not enthusiastic. But like the teachers in our district, they often see the value. We now do this training program every 2-3 years. Since the beginning of the program, we have tried to organize a twice-a-year event gathering all the people involved to assess the program, share experiences, figure out the new challenges, convince other districts, schools and teacher to be open for inclusion. We have called the event “Masters by Masters” or “100 Voices for Inclusion”.