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Sharing Stories of Belonging: Rebecca Beayni

 

As an importnat element of the endexclusion.ca campaign, CACL and CCD are asking for stories from their readers. Stories are, of course, one of the most valuable ways to share insight, perpsepctive and history. I plan on sharing some of these stories from time to time as they capture our initiative beautifully.

Rebecca Beayni, ON
When Rebecca and her circle think of citizenship, they think of the Zulu word “Ubuntu”. Loosely translated, it means, ‘my humanity is inextricably bound up in your humanity’, or the idea that we are different so that we can know our need for one another. We are always led back to this concept- “Ubuntu”- when we think of the wonderful impact Rebecca has had and continues to have on the lives of the persons with whom she comes into contact. Rebecca has been blessed ironically, with Cerebral Palsy, and an intellectual disability which makes her dependent on others for almost everything. Despite this, Rebecca had led and continues to lead a favoured life where she is an integral, functional, and impactful member of her society. She represents persons with disabilities who demand to invoke their rights as citizens to be seen, heard, and allowed to make meaningful contributions to the community. Usually, when people see Rebecca, they do not initially see her as being able to share and contribute. It is not her physical limitations but rather an attitude of unwillingness to see beyond them, that can bar her from becoming a full citizen…

A part of being a whole society or a democratic society, is making certain ALL voices are heard, and decisions are made for the common good. However, some of our society’s most vulnerable citizens are ignored. Rebecca forces people to slow down to communicate with her and this is a gift to the world… slowing people down to the point where they have to listen to those, otherwise ignored, voices. This guides us in the direction of a good society; which is measured by how people treat, listen deeply to, empathize and interact with its most vulnerable members.

Rebecca’s school and later work experience is a testament to how one person can change the entire culture that exists around them. Teachers, administrators, fellow students, and co-workers always say that Rebecca’s mere presence changes the very fabric of their relationships, making them more collaborative, more compassionate, and more intuitive to strategies that advantage all persons.

Rebecca was fully included and integrated into the regular classroom since elementary school and she has had wonderful teachers who planned creatively and effectively to cater to her learning needs. Part of this was having Rebecca’s classmates play critical roles in assisting her and helping her teachers to create accommodations that would be to her benefit as well. Not only did these youngsters learn the importance of responsibility for others, task commitment and community building, they also gained from an educational perspective as well; since teaching strategies used to assist Rebecca helped all levels of learners. I remember when Rebecca was in the eighth grade, she was out in the school yard and some of the boys in her class were “skipping” with her. She has always loved to watch children skip so her classmates, when they were younger figured that she could skip too if they just turned the ropes back and forth over her head as she sat in her wheel chair. It was amazing to see that even in grade 8 when 14 year old boys are trying to assert themselves in the stereotypical ways of young men, that they exhibited such tenderness towards their friend’s desire to play with them.

Rebecca continues to disseminate citizenship education in her pursuits as an adult. She has an extremely vigorous calendar of commitments. On Mondays she listens to Grade 1 students read at her old elementary school. This exercise helps the little ones gain confidence in their reading ability. Rebecca cannot speak and for the children this means they are able to read freely with no expectation of criticism, simply the reassurance of a smiling face. Rebecca is also a facilitator at the Royal Ontario Museum in the Bio-Diversity Hands-On exhibit, helping people discover things that they might otherwise not notice. My daughter also brings hope and inspires the vulnerable and dispossessed through her own vulnerability, when she volunteers at the Mustard Seed drop-in center with its community kitchen, library, sewing room, etc. Salt and Light TV. is another place that Rebecca contributes her gifts. As well as helping with editing, her presence reminds this catholic community who can sometimes get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of film making, of the values that form the foundation of their faith. Most inspiring to many, is the fact that Rebecca is a dancer. She dances with the Spirit Movers liturgical dance group and testifies to her strong faith using this medium. How does a person who is non-verbal and wheel chair bound living within the constraints of others ideas and expectations of people with disabilities do all these things? Her success in overcoming obstacles is mainly due to the deep and committed relationships she has developed with family, friends, her support circle as well as collaboration with community groups that she comes in contact with regularly such as the church, schools and other venues. Her support circle, who have been meeting regularly for the past 13 years, help interpret her goals and dreams. Rebecca does not speak, so those around her ensure that she has many other ways to express her feelings and desires. It is imperative that she have long term relationships, both paid and unpaid who can help build the capacity of the community to welcome her gifts. In return Rebecca helps them create a better world for all. This is citizenship, and Rebecca is an esteemed educator in this regard.

Rebecca would like her video to be used as a call to action, a call for justice for everyone who is marginalized. As wonderful as Rebecca’s life is, there are so many people who do not have such a happy story and who continue to be held captive by society’s fears, misunderstandings and prejudice. The world needs their gifts now more than ever.
Rebecca and her circle would like this ad hoc committee to call for an approach to reduce and eliminate discrimination that goes beyond policy change and focuses on a rethinking of the values and priorities that underpin our lives.

 

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