December 30, 2015

FLEXing Without Limits in Kyrgyzstan


Azat (center) speaks to the participants in his "Social School" program.
In recognition of the 2013 International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the State Department launched the Lives Without Limits campaign to promote the importance of inclusion within international exchanges. Similarly, the White House’s Let Girls Learn initiative opens the doors of education for around the world, ensuring that girls have unlimited access to education and the necessary resources to equip future leaders. As alumni spread the “Without Limits” message in their home communities, they are able to make positive, tangible changes in policy and practice. In Kyrgyzstan, Azat Toroev makes certain that girls and persons with disabilities are not hindered by institutional and societal barriers. 
Azat is an alumnus of the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) Program, which provides scholarships for high school students from Eurasia to spend an academic year in the United States, living with a family and attending an American high school. He speaks highly of his exchange, saying, “I cannot imagine what my life would be like if not for the FLEX program.” FLEX enhanced his entrepreneurial drive, communications skills, interest in foreign affairs, and desire to give back to his community. Today, he applies those lessons in school and in his flourishing career. While still in college, working toward a B.A. in International Relations, Azat also serves as the City Representative for Tokmok. 
Determined to ensure that his city is inclusive and accessible, Azat manages campaigns and projects that help persons with disabilities live without limits and, taking the spirit of the UN Women’s HeForShe campaign to heart, he actively promotes gender equality. Azat was awarded two grants from American Councils to plan a Global Youth Service Day called “Disabilities Do Not Limit Possibilities,” and create a project called “Future Leaders in the Making.” The ripple effect from Azat’s projects is astounding. Because of the service day, Azat’s university made significant changes and became the first fully accessible university for persons with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan. At the “Future Leaders in the Making,” over the course of five days, fifteen female high-school participants bonded while learning more about gender equality, leadership, conflict analysis, and social advocacy. Like exchange students, they will share their newfound knowledge with their friends, peers, and community. 
In addition to his personal projects, though his position as the City Representative for Tokmok, he organizes public service initiatives. To date, “Social School” has been the most successful initiative. With fellow exchange alumni, Azat and members of the community teach orphans at the Beikut House English, drama, music, and dance. Azat’s schedule is hectic, but he wouldn’t trade these experiences for a lighter load. In his words, the FLEX program made him more compassionate and steadied his voice by giving him the courage to discuss concerns and help his community.