“I don’t know of any other organizations that have taken people with developmental disabilities to another country, not just for pleasure but to have some sort of a mission, or a vision, or a purpose.” ~ Virginia Sawatsky, Executive Director & Vice-President, Pathways
For those who don’t know me, I began my career as a social worker and an advocate for person’s with disabilities. While I believe that each organization that serves this vulnerable population are genuine in their mission and values, when I met Virginia and her team at Pacific Development Pathways (Pathways from here on out:), I was truly taken back with how they have challenged themselves to take seriously their mission statement, “Better Lives.”
“Better Lives” for persons with disability begin when they truly belong in a community. They are afforded the right to live, work, learn, and play in the community. They are given the opportunity to learn anything and are treated with respect and dignity. And they are free to challenge themselves. This seems like commons sense, but as I mentioned in our blog post, 20 Years in the Making, these rights are still very new in Canada for persons with disability, where they were segregated in institutions up until 2009.
Change makers in Canada have been challenging our culture and society to see persons with disability as though they truly belong for over 50 years, and they have learned a lot. Wanting to take that message, our story, and give back more globally, Pathways has partnered internationally with the Bethel Humanitarian Organization and The House of Grace to help the growing community living movement in Romania.
In Episode 3 of the Change Makers, I followed one of their teams as they visited Hunedoara, Romania to provide information, training and relationship building opportunities. Each team was made up of people with disabilities, family members, and Pathways staff. All members of the team were involved in training (planned and coordinated before they left) and each member played a leadership role during the visit.
While in Romania, they worked together to lead presentations to schools, professional development seminars for Romanian social workers and teachers, met with government officials to improve accessibility, and took the time to visit families supporting members with a disability.
With all this activity and interaction with the Romanian community, Virginia’s biggest desire was that “hopefully those observing could see that it didn’t matter that someone on our team had a disability or didn’t have a disability that we were a team and we were working together for the same thing.”
Since their first visit in 2012, Pathways has become an integral part of Hunedoara’s growing Community Living movement. Their visits, inspiration, and education have not only encouraged the movement, but through fundraising and partnerships with local businesses in Langley, they have been able to financially support a full time staff member at the Bethel Humanitarian Association to continue the work in the community.
This has been a dream for Corneliu Medrea, the President of the Bethel Humanitarian Association, who has for years wanted to help his people see value in persons with disability and treat them with respect. After working with Pathways, and visiting Canada, he believes that Pathways model is the best model in giving value to persons with disability, the people that surround them, and the community.
By the end of this journey I was deeply moved and inspired. Although this is episode 3 in our series, it was the first project we filmed, and it was while filming this project that I was inspired to find more change makers and help to share their stories. This was filmed in 2016 and it took two years to bring this project to fruition, and I am happy to finally share it with you.
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