For Chan Sarin of Cambodia, Red Wing served as his first experience in the United States. Disability Support International, a nonprofit organization founded in 2016, welcomed Sarin for a week of observation, discussions and learning.
Based in Red Wing, DSI was created by several special education professionals, including Jennie Wendland and her husband, Mick, who hosted Sarin for the week.
"We know there are immense and unmet needs for people living with disabilities in developing countries around the world and we believe we can and should work together to change this situation for the better," Jennie Wendland said.
DSI aims to advocate, support, empower and improve the lives of people with disabilities in developing countries so they can live life to the fullest.
Sarin's visit stems from a partnership that began in 2009 during one of Wendland's numerous trips to Cambodia.
"One of the ways we work toward meeting our mission is by partnering with existing organizations that are looking for assistance in targeted developing countries," she said.
DSI is working with approximately 10 partner organizations run by Cambodian nationals, many of whom have disabilities themselves and want a better future for the next generations. Sarin is the founder and executive director of Hands of Hope Community, a leading model of community-based rehabilitation in Cambodia.
Wendland said through DSI's research, they have found people like Sarin in many countries striving to work toward, but need assistance finding ways to learn about disabilities and resources to aid in the development of services.
"We aim to build collaborative bridges to empower continuous development," Wendland said. "By creating such opportunities, we all learn and benefit."
The World Bank and World Health Organization approximate there are 1 billion people living with disabilities in the world today — 80 percent are in developing countries.
"Especially in these countries, people with disabilities commonly lack access to opportunities including education, employment, freedom from discrimination and equal treatment. This often perpetuates the cycle of poverty and disability," Wendland said. "Children are sometimes abandoned because their families are too poor or ashamed to care for them."
During his week here, Sarin visited Red Wing High School, River Bluff Education Center, Burnside Elementary School and ProAct to observe and discuss programming with professionals in the field as he prepares for his trip home to start building the national curriculum for teacher training.
Currently in Cambodia, the only government-approved special education training available is three days long.
Beyond management and implementing policies, Sarin said he hopes to introduce new classroom strategies in Cambodia.
"Any manual training or lesson planning I can learn and share with my staff will do more for our children," he said.
Sarin gave presentations to Red Wing High School students, a community gathering at Cornerstone Community Church and the Kiwanis Dawnbreakers.
"For Sarin to be able to see with his own eyes what services are available in the U.S. will give him so much to bring back to hs staff," Wendland said. "The opportunity to collaborate and learn with other professionals helps validate what you care about."
Wendland said DSI will continue to collaborate with Sarin, both from the U.S. and directly in Cambodia. Similar special education organizations in Kenya, Pakistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh have reached out to DSI, inquiring about partnerships. Wendland said the organization has goals to expand after developing effective models in Cambodia.
"We are so grateful to the Red Wing community's willingness to learn and share and are excited to continue working together to advocate, support and empower to create a better and more inclusive world for all," she said.
To learn more about DSI, visit www.ds-international.org.