The Global Fulbright Scholarship Program

The following blog was written by Dr. Lauren Lieberman. 

One of the best aspects of Camp Abilities is the encouragement and validation we are able to give our campers. Each of the counselors believes – firmly believes – in the ability of each child. 

We know that sometimes a child needs a dose of encouragement, a validation of our belief and confidence in their potential, a gentle shove into the unknown. One of my favorite parts of camp is watching a volunteer whisper into a camper’s ear, “You got this. Take the step.”.

In 2018, I too had someone whisper in my ear, “You got this. Take the step.”  My wife, Katrina, encouraged me to apply for the highly competitive Global Fulbright Scholarship Program. But the US State Department Global Fulbright Scholarship Award is HUGE. The goal of the program, which started in 1946, is the “promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture, and science.” If you look at the list of award winners, it’s daunting and awe-inspiring.

Honestly, I thought it was a long shot. I started Camp Abilities because I believed – and still believe – that all children deserve the chance to achieve – and excel – in sport. But to have the US State Department recognize the importance of what we do seemed impossible. 

Receiving the award would take time, patience, and a tedious list of never-ending steps. At every camp, an athlete is asked to do something they believe is impossible. They are asked to find patience and work through the steps to master goalball or long jump or rock climbing. If I could ask that of our campers, I could certainly ask it of myself. 

The Process and The People

Winning a Fulbright requires more than a one page ‘here is who I am and here is what I do’. It is a commitment to spend thirty days in each of three countries. Camp Abilities had already expanded internationally. But there were other places I wanted us to reach. I focused my proposal on Ghana, Ireland and Brazil. 

In Ghana I wanted to work with the University of Ghana in Accra. I have a former colleague, Dr. Reggie O’Cansey, who teaches in their physical education program. Together, we could bring the first Camp Abilities to Ghana.

In Tralee, Ireland, the Institute for Technology, Tralee, one of the leading APE programs in Europe and the CARA center for promoting disability sport across the country. We had already established Camp Abilities in Ireland, but they were ready to expand. 

In Brazil, I had long term relationships with many professors and past students and had been asked to speak at several conferences in the country over the years. Brazil has excellent and varied programs for the blind and visually impaired. What they didn’t yet have was Camp Abilities. With the Fulbright’s support, we could make that happen.

After those decisions were made, the tedious steps began. I had to write a 10-page narrative, as well as create a 5-page curriculum vita. I needed a letter from my department chair and two more from people who had started other camps. I also had to solicit letters from my colleagues in Ghana, Ireland and Brazil. 

If that was not enough, I needed to arrange a sabbatical from SUNY Brockport.

The Obstacles

Just as our campers face obstacles, so did I. The first problem arose when my contact in Brazil decided I needed to change locations. This sounds easy but it required a complete re-write of my proposal and making another connection that was strong enough to support my visit. I have to admit, I almost gave up. But Katrina motivated me to take the time, find the patience and use my courage. I submitted the re-write and then …  

My next challenge was completely beyond my control – 2019 started with a government shutdown. I waited – not so patiently – to see if I and Camp Abilities had earned the Fulbright Global Scholarship Award. 

Finally

On March 18th, 2019, I opened my email and found an award letter! My dream had become a reality. The hard work had paid off.

Our mission to reach children who are blind through sport was important enough to our US Government to award me the necessary funds to reach new parts of the world. 

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I know how important Camp Abilities is. I look at the faces of our campers as they hit their first ball or ride their first bike and I am honored and humbled. While receiving validation from the US State Department is an honor that I’m proud to have, it is the Camp Abilities community that motivates me. The Fulbright Global Scholarship Award recognizes us all. 

I was inspired – as I always am – by the kids and the adults in Ghana, Ireland and Brazil. In the coming posts, I’ll share my experiences in three diverse settings. I’ll tell you about ants and food poisoning and stolen computers. I’ll introduce you to some amazing people and leadership teams. Most importantly, some amazing children who are unforgettable.

You’ll also hear about more obstacles and more ways I found the necessary encouragement and support to overcome and reach our goals. Every country taught me a new lesson and I look forward to sharing those with you.

Gratitude

No journey is done alone. These are the people who directly impacted my ability to secure the Fulbright Global Scholarship Award: 

I thank the Fulbright Committee for the respect and the opportunity. 

~Lauren

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