Building on a successful International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) Gold Star program in the summer of 2020, three more IVLP alumni were named Gold Stars and “returned” to the United States to reconnect with their U.S. counterparts and positively shape their communities as disability rights advocates. IVLP Gold Stars Mi Yeon Kim from South Korea, Serhii Letuchyi from Ukraine, and Vianney Sierralta from Chile virtually attended professional meetings, home hospitality, and cultural activities.
They detailed their stories and their work in disability rights, legislation, and activism during three impactful webinars described below.
Mi Yeon Kim, international disability and gender rights activist from South Korea
Ms. Kim is a member of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In her presentation she detailed legislation on disability rights, focusing particularly on the history of women’s leadership in the progression of human and disability rights. Ms. Kim’s connections with the State Department began with her attending the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, where she met fellow disability rights activists while representing Korean women with disabilities. She has become a leading voice advocating for people with disabilities and shared several stories about her life and leadership experiences.
Her webinar on February 17, 2021 was hosted by MCID Washington and is available here; this program was originally delivered in both English and Korean, with American and Korean Sign Language interpretation.
Serhii Letuchyi, musician and disability rights activist from Ukraine
A musician and civil rights activist, Serhii Letuchyi has traveled across Ukraine to promote disabilities rights and perform in support of cultural unity in his country. One of his cultural innovations is the “Good Silent Party,” an inclusive event that enables everyone to dance to the music either through headphones or through the music’s vibrations in the floorboards. His 2017 IVLP experience, and his observations of accessibility practices in the United States, inspired him to launch an advocacy campaign which led to construction of ramps and other measures to make public buildings more accessible in his hometown of Starobielsk. His 2020 Gold Star program arranged by World Learning reunited Mr. Letuchyi with members of Denver’s arts community and introduced him to new contacts in Detroit, including musicians and members of the Ukrainian diaspora.
The webinar provided Mr. Letuchyi an opportunity to engage with audience members in the United States and Ukraine to discuss civil rights for people with disabilities and how music and cultural initiatives can deliver a message about the value of inclusion. The December 4, 2020 webinar was hosted by WorldDenver and is available here; this program was originally delivered in both English and Ukrainian, with American and International Sign Language interpretation.
Vianney Sierralta, leading advocate for women with disabilities in politics and lawyer from Chile
Ms. Sierralta, a leader protecting the rights of deaf women in Chile, was busy advocating for changes in Chile’s new constitution during her return to the United States as a Gold Star. Her advocacy to include protections for people with disabilities in the constitution as well as her work developing innovative methods for deaf women to report domestic violence during the pandemic built on her experiences on a 2017 IVLP. In addition to her achievement becoming Chile’s first deaf lawyer, Sierralta founded the Nellie Zabel Foundation, a collective of deaf women who are championing a better future for those who are hard of hearing.
Ms. Sierralta discussed her road to activism during a webinar hosted by the World Affairs Council of Seattle, available here; this program was originally delivered in English and Spanish with American and Chilean Sign Language interpretation.
Held in honor of the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, these public events shed light on the progress made and that is still needed in accessibility and inclusion, and how international exchange can help improve access for all. Office of International Visitors Director Anne Grimes joined the events on behalf of the State Department and described the partnerships with the Global Ties U.S. network and the three national programming agencies involved with these Gold Star programs: MCID Washington, World Learning, and CRDF Global.
The Gold Star program has recognized over 50 IVLP alumni over the past 10 years. The International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) is a program of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs that reaches thousands of current and emerging foreign leaders every year. Follow along at @StateIVLP and #IVLP on social media for more information and conversation about exchange.