Celebrating Inclusion

A few years ago, while working abroad as a physical therapist, I had a profound realization that has stayed with me ever since: embracing inclusion means reaching out and offering support to others, regardless of our differences.

In 2008, I was living in Bahrain, a small Middle Eastern country with distinct customs, traditions, and religious practices that differed from those of my home country. The reason for my presence there was being hired by an American clinic to supervise and administer a groundbreaking treatment aimed at aiding patients with neurological conditions such as cerebral palsy, post-stroke complications, Parkinson’s disease, and many others. The special treatment method used astronaut-like suits, elastic bands, and therapy sessions lasting up to 4 hours.

Initially, I faced some challenges because I didn’t know anyone in the country and felt as if I would struggle to fit in there. As I spent several months working at the clinic, I began to pick up a few friendly Arabic phrases to communicate with the children I was treating. Despite my efforts to connect, I still felt like an outsider. However, the most meaningful moments were those I shared with the children, many of whom faced motor and sensory difficulties.

Those little children did not understand English; however, after a few days, they were already greeting me with a big smile and trusting me to treat them. During the treatment, some children got tired, considering that the treatment was very intense, and the only thing they wanted was to go back home and sleep.

Noticing a lack of motivation in some children, I began sharing stories with them to enhance our interaction while their parents were translating. The interaction was amazing, prompting me to make a monthly tradition of crafting illustrations as gifts for the children.

I started telling the story of Zoe, a little crab who had lost her claw in a mishap at the beach. The following day, my patients returned with a plethora of questions, their curiosity piqued about what would unfold next. Unbeknownst to them, as I narrated the tales, their bodies were undergoing training, completely oblivious to the fact.

While trying to find her way back home, I continued. Zoe came across various animals who were dealing with their struggles. One of them was a snake who complained about having to spend four hours every day just to cross the street, and there was also a rabbit who had been searching for his parents since the day he was born.

After spending time with her new friends, Zoe realizes that despite having only one claw, she can achieve many things just like the other animals who don’t have disabilities.

The children thoroughly enjoyed the stories and drawings I shared with them, and their parents were delighted with the positive outcomes. For me, it was an incredible feeling to discover their immense excitement about going to the clinic. Their parents were grateful for this, which led to me receiving invitations to their special celebrations. As a result, I had the opportunity to learn more about their stories, and they learned more about mine as well.

Experiencing the embrace and acceptance of being treated like family at their houses was an incredible sensation. My patients’ families didn’t judge me based on my appearance, beliefs, or anything else. They simply saw me as one of their own, and I truly felt at home.

In the end, I spent three years in that beautiful country. Stunning landscapes and warm people surrounded me. I believe that the power of inclusion is limitless. I wrote those stories, and in 2021, my lifelong dream of becoming a published author came true. Finally, I published my trilogy called “Zoe the Crab.”

After a couple of years working in different countries and educational institutions, I realized that to achieve inclusion, it is necessary to provide the necessary resources to ensure that every individual feels welcome. For example, in educational settings, it is crucial not only to eliminate the separation of children with disabilities from neurotypical classes but also to ensure they feel like they belong. Allowing them to form relationships with their classmates and instructors is crucial.

My personal experience of being included has truly emphasized the importance of inclusivity and has become a significant source of inspiration for my books. The main goal of my books is to encourage acceptance and facilitate understanding.

Find out more at: https://www.luciamatuonto.com/

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