On a chilly October day, Azima found herself dangling on a harness, higher than a house, supported by a group of people gripping ropes below. "And then they let go!" remembers the 2011-12 YES student from Pakistan. "At first I was really afraid." Then she took off in a graceful swoop across the wooded hilltop, and her fear turned to exhilaration.
Azima, who was born with no hands and no legs below the knees, was participating in a ropes challenge course with other YES students with disabilities, as part of a weeklong orientation with Mobility International USA, in Eugene, OR.
"The MIUSA week was the first time I've been in contact with kids with disabilities," says Azima. "We had all different disabilities. When it was time to communicate, it was challenging – the blind kids couldn't see the deaf kids signing – but we learned to cooperate."
A "Falcon's Flight," the chance to bowl, riding adaptive bikes, and a group visit to the mall left Azima feeling empowered. "It made me feel that if I have to try other new things, I should be open to them and not hesitate – I should be adventurous!"
Azima's energetic host parents, John and Harriet, also encouraged her to be independent and embrace the opportunities that her year in America offered. Harriet persuaded a reluctant Azima to go swimming and took her to see all sorts of performances-- from Blueman Group to The Nutcracker. Their hometown of Eugene has an adaptive recreation program, so Azima was able to borrow a special bicycle for the year and learn to ski on nearby Mt. Hoodoo. By her third ski lesson, she was bored with the easy trails and insisted on tackling the highest slope.
Azima spent her sophomore year at the Oak Hill School, where she managed a challenging course schedule, served on the student council and helped design the yearbook. A talented artist, Azima could often be found in the school's art studio, experimenting with collages and copic markers.
Off-campus, Azima performed volunteer service and traveled the West coast by train with her host family. When other exchange students told her they were homesick over Christmas, Azima replied, "Really? I didn't even have time to get homesick."