Gig Buddies – tearing up the town in Tel Aviv
Late last year I was asked to speak at Akim and Inclusion International’s Conference in Tel Aviv. The theme was ‘Belonging’ – the idea that there is a place beyond just inclusion but a place where everyone can feel valued, welcome and loved for who they are. Belonging being about contributing to your community as well as getting something back.
Moving from inclusion to belonging
Prof Erik Carter spoke about his work in enabling people with learning disabilities to move from segregated living (very much still the norm for many people) through a stage of inclusion to one of this sense of ‘belonging’. Moving miles on from ‘involvement’ through to ‘inclusion’ and beyond arriving at a place where people are valued as contributing to their community as active citizens.
That’s very much the vision that drives us forward at Stay Up Late both with our campaigning work and also our Gig Buddies project. Recognising that people with learning disabilities have a huge amount to contribute to their communities when given the opportunities.
I was there talking about how Gig Buddies is enabling us to enable people with learning disabilities to belong to communities of their choosing in a practical way.
I was also delighted to be able to co-present with Tamar Lev-Zion, who told us all about how she likes to live her life, her incredible mum (who wrote a book about her ‘Taking Tamar’) and some of the people she’s met socially including Danny DeVito and all of ABBA.
Organising a DIY social there and then
We finished our talk by asking audience members if they would join us on a night out in Tel Aviv.
Sometimes we can over think things when we plan them. I just decided to say: “I’ll be in the hotel foyer at 7pm if anyone wants to join me. We’ll then decide what to do when we met up.” Simple as that!
I pointed out that I was a stranger in their city, I didn’t know where anything was and I couldn’t read any of the signs as they were in Hebrew so having their local knowledge would greatly enhance my visit to their city, otherwise I’d be wandering around aimlessly for the evening.
I didn’t know a cheap and nice place to eat, where the most fun part of town was or anything so I needed some local people to be my ‘Gig Buddies’.
That evening I was joined by Litel, Nadra, Shimrit, Dana who were locals and Ken who was visiting from the USA. We’d only met that evening but we had a delightful time eating local food in the street market and watching the world go by. The language barrier wasn’t a problem thanks to support worker Dana and it was a lovely end to the conference.
Sadly though my co-facilitator Tamar couldn’t join us as she couldn’t get her support worker to work late. No I am not making this up!
Let my people go!
Another take home from the conference was Sue Swenson, President of Inclusion International, who was reflecting on the significance of the conference being in Israel and what we could all perhaps learn from the story of Moses. She called on us all to be like Moses, a man who was faced by an oppressor and had the courage to say to pharaoh “Let my people go”.
According to the book of Exodus it took a fair bit of time for Moses to be persuaded that he was the one to lead the Israelites out of their oppression and slavery. In many ways he was a reluctant leader but he knew something had to change.
Sue’s keynote reminded us all of our individual and collective responsibility when we know things aren’t right, we still have to be the ones to speak up for people and say ‘let my people go’ – or in our case ‘let the people stay up late!’
So thank you to everyone at Inclusion International for a wonderful and thought provoking conference.
Paul – Director firstname.lastname@example.org