Rights and Representation: Alumni with Disabilities Reflect on Fulbright’s Global Impact

The Fulbright experience has been life-changing for me. .. Fulbright changed my life. It opened my eyes .. It opened my heart and it opened my perception.

Pedro Castillo García, 2014 Fulbright Foreign Student from Colombia

On August 3, 2021, the Fulbright Program, in collaboration with National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange (NCDE), hosted Rights and Representation: Alumni with Disabilities Reflect on Fulbright’s Global Impact. The panel discussion took place during the NCDE Joining Hands Symposium, and included four Fulbright alumni: Pedro Castillo García (2014 Fulbright Foreign Student from Colombia), Inocencio Zandamela (2013 Fulbright Foreign Student from Mozambique), Adriana Pulido (2011 Fulbright Foreign Student from Colombia), and Uyanga Erdenbold (2007 Fulbright Foreign Student from Mongolia).

I used to be someone, I use canes and I use prosthesis as I was born with a condition without legs. I was the kind of person with a disability that when I saw another person with a prosthesis or a wheelchair, I would change the lane. I made my life's endeavor to be disassociated with my disability. Most of my friends did not know I used prosthesis. I did not want people to know. I thought it would make me less of an artist. I thought it would make me less of what I am. The [2015 U.S. Disability Rights Fulbright Seminar] opened my eyes.

Pedro Castillo García, 2014 Fulbright Foreign Student from Colombia

Moderated by Mobility International USA’s CEO and co-founder, Susan Sygall, the event highlighted the work and achievements of the alumni.  The alumni reflected on the continued impact that their Fulbright experiences in the United States had on shaping their perspectives disability rights advocacy, and how they contribute in their home countries.

My experience from the Fulbright Program really gave me the skills and the knowledge to understand different communities and how they are working with their students and bring that kind of knowledge here to Mozambique and improve our deaf literacy here as well. To help them understand deaf rights and be fully part of the society.

Inocencio Zandamela, 2013 Fulbright Student from Mozambique

The Fulbright alumni discussed their Fulbright experience in the United States was influential in their work on disability issues, as well as in their post-Fulbright work to advance disability rights in their home countries. Attendees discovered how necessary disability advocacy is to ensure access and inclusion in all environments. The event concluded with a live Q&A with the audience members where Fulbright alumni elaborated on their experiences including their thoughts on disclosing their disability status as well as their continued work to promote access.

what Fulbright did for me was basically Fulbright freed me in the intellectual and the physical sense. .. In addition to a lot of life-changing things, one thing that happened to me was in America, I owned a key to my apartment for the first time. That is because before coming to America, I had never traveled on my own. I did not have independent mobility. I often traveled with a sibling, classmates or friend. Only in America I was given an opportunity to have the mobility training. I was able to come and go on my own.

Uyanga Erdenbold, 2007 Fulbright Student from Mongolia

Meet the Panel

Pedro Castillo García (2014 Fulbright Foreign Student from Colombia) – Pedro Castillo García is a writer and musician from Bogotá, Colombia. After completing his undergraduate studies, earning a bachelor’s degree in Literature, Pedro’s first job was as a high school English teacher in one of Bogotá’s most vulnerable neighborhoods, through "Enseña por Colombia" (organization of the Teach for All/Teach for America global network). In the evenings, Pedro channeled his creativity into writing poetry, plays and songs.

In 2014, after a suggestion from a friend, Pedro applied for and received a Fulbright Foreign Student Program grant to attend Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois, where he pursued an M.F.A. program in Writing for the Screen & Stage. There, he had the chance to study the craft of play and screenwriting, as well as the history of musicals, under masterful instructors. Upon graduation in 2016, Pedro stayed for a year to teach and to work in the theatres of Chicag, assisting in great productions at the prestigious Goodman and Victory Gardens theatres; the latter in fact, did a small production of Pedro’s musical "Dorian" (a jazz adaptation of Wilde's celebrated novel). After a year in OPT (Optional Practical Training), Pedro returned to his native Colombia with a universe of knowledge and experience ready to share and put to service.

Pedro's first visit to the United States was at a young age to receive his first prosthesis, having been born without legs. He traveled there with his mother, Maria Luz García, whom Pedro cites as an important influence on his development as a young person with a disability exploring new passions in teaching, theatre and music.

Inocencio Zandamela (2013 Fulbright Student from Mozambique) – Inocencio Joao Raul Zandamela is from Maputo, Mozambique, a country on the eastern bank of Southern Africa. He describes himself as a Deaf person who is dedicated to developing the cultural identity and improving the quality of education for Mozambique’s deaf children and youth. His methods focus on teaching, capacity-building, psychology, counseling, sign language acquisition, and more.

Inocencio became a deaf person early in his childhood and attended mainstream schools throughout his life. As a deaf learner in these schools, Inocencio struggled due to the lack of access to accommodations such as sign language interpreters. Despite these environmental barriers, Inocencio completed his high school studies in Mozambique and went on to attend the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa to pursue his undergraduate degree. Upon graduation, Inocencio qualified as a teacher and officially started working in his dream profession in 2008, serving the deaf community and schools. There, he counseled students and guided them in their psychological development. To advance in his profession, Inocencio received a Fulbright scholarship to pursue graduate-level studies in psychology in the United States. From 2013-2015, Inocencio attended the College of St. Rose in New York, where he earned his Master’s in Education, specializing in Educational Psychology.

In the education field over 12 years, Mr. Zandamela has had teaching experiences in five different schools for the deaf in South Africa and worked as a teacher for three special schools for the deaf in Mozambique. With his expertise in Sign Language, he has been assistant researcher for the African Studies Center at the Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique where he authored a Mozambique Sign Language Dictionary. He also has been a Sign Language trainer for many education institutions both public and private on appointed by Mozambique’s Department of Education and has presented during many conferences, workshops and seminars.

Apart from education, Mr. Zandamela has been actively involved as a leader for many organizations such as the International Students Societies at Wits University, National Association of the Deaf’s board and the Association Educating the Deaf of Mozambique, etc.

As a member of the Deaf community, Inocencio enjoys sharing a common cultural identity. Inocencio is married to a Deaf woman named Suzete Zandamela, with whom he has five children who are hearing and bicultural sign language users. As a follow-up dream, Mr. Zandamela is eager to engage in research about linguistic and deaf culture by getting a scholarship to fulfill a doctoral degree, conducting research and coursework at a prestigious university in his home country or abroad.

Adriana Pulido (2011 Foreign Fulbright Student from Colombia) – Throughout her career development, in her home of Bogotá, Colombia and abroad, Adriana Pulido Camargo has been strongly committed to the full inclusion of people with disabilities, both as an activist and as part of the public, private and the international cooperation sectors. While working for the Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies, she was able to lead a Pioneer initiative in the world to promote the inclusion of individuals with visual impairment around the country through the use and adoption of technologies. Currently, she works as the disability Inclusion Advisor for the International Committee of the Red Cross, where she has the opportunity to foster the inclusion of individuals with disabilities who have been affected by the armed conflict and urban violence.

In 2011, Adriana received a Fulbright grant to pursue a master’s degree in Mass Communication from the University of Florida, the first Colombian with a disability to win this scholarship. After winning the Fulbright Scholarship, she defeated her fears as a blind woman and made the decision to travel alone for the first time. While doing her Master’s, she was able to expand her academic and cultural knowledge, as well as to share one of her greatest passions with her friends: playing music.

Adriana has also played an important role as an activist regarding the rights of visually impaired people. She belongs to the National Network of Women with Visual Impairment, a group that gathers women coming from different regions who are blind and low-vision. The purpose of this Network is to promote women’s empowerment, social and political participation.

Undoubtedly, the Fulbright scholarship has had a strong impact in Adriana’s life, both personally and professionally. She could widen her world view and build a network of friends, as well as acquire enough tools and skills to promote inclusion projects in her country. She is convinced that, thanks to the scholarship, she has been able to create a trust and credibility environment around her in every place she has worked as a project leader or inclusion advisor. She has shown that the Fulbright scholarship for people with disability is worthy, and that those with disabilities add value to the initiatives they are involved in, which in turn contributes to a more inclusive society for all.

Most recently, Adriana was named the Winner of the Fulbright Excellence Award in 2021. Name:

Uyanga Erdenbold (2007 Fulbright Student from Mongolia) – Uyanga was born and raised in Mongolia. Through marriage, she has immigrated to the U.S. she is also mother to a mixed-race son. She values her intercultural experiences and works to promote meaningful diversity, one not solely based on external attributes, but more on our shared human experiences, respect, and dignity, so that she can contribute to leaving her son a world in which everybody matters.

Uyanga Erdenebold is a public relations and diplomacy professional with over-nine-years-of experience working for the U.S. Department of State and in non-profit NGOs. Working in charge of educational exchange and scholarship programs such as Fulbright fellowship at the U.S. Embassy in Ulaanbaatar, Uyanga standardized scholarship selection process, enhanced selection transparency, and launched successful outreach programs to rural, and other disadvantaged, audiences to diversify the applicant pool. Through this program, she and her guide dog Gladys have traveled to all of the 21 provinces of Mongolia and had direct conversations with thousands of rural youth, educators, entrepreneurs, and professionals. This program, now standardized and held annually, has recently been recognized as the top best-practice for the U.S. State Department’s Education USA initiatives worldwide. She also served as the U.S. Embassy’s main point of contact for over a thousand alumni of various U.S. Government-exchange programs, and directed and supported numerous alumni-led social projects. She also served as an advisor and manager for the board of directors of the Mongolian Association of State Alumni (MASA), an active and dynamic association that she helped to build.

Uyanga is the first blind Mongolian to receive the Fulbright scholarship, and completed her graduate studies in Library and Information Science at the Louisiana State University (LSU). She conducted professional internships at the Library of Congress and at the Maryland State Library. Most recently, Uyanga worked as the Program Manager for the Tomodachi MetLife Women’s Leadership Program at the U.S. Japan Council in Tokyo Japan (until July 2020). She currently serves as an executive board member for the Council on Diversity and Inclusion at the U.S. Embassy in Japan.

An avid dog lover, Uyanga is one of the founding board members of Lucky Paws, the first animal rescue/advocacy group in Mongolia. Uyanga’s first guide dog Gladys went on to become the first ever guide dog to live and work in Mongolia.

Watch Uyanga’s TED talk on "Understanding and acceptance in a challenging world"


Susan Sygall (CEO and Co-Founder, Mobility International USA) – As CEO and co-founder of Mobility International USA, Susan is an internationally recognized expert in the area of international educational exchange, international development, and leadership programs for persons with disabilities, and especially women with disabilities. Susan, a wheelchair rider, has had a personal and professional commitment to disability rights and women's issues for more than 30 years. She has co-authored numerous publications and has lectured throughout the world on a variety of topics related to inclusive development, international exchange opportunities for persons with disabilities, women's empowerment, and disability rights.

Susan has received numerous awards for her passionate advocacy for disability rights. In 2013, she became an Ashoka Senior Fellow and received recognition of her work in 2011 by being awarded the Kellogg Fellows Leadership Alliance Matusak Courageous Leadership Award and receiving an honorary doctorate from Chapman University and the University of Portland. In 2000, she received the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship. In 1995, Sygall received the President's Award from President Bill Clinton for her dynamic leadership in international exchange programs for people with disabilities, for her mentorship of young people with disabilities, and for her active role throughout our country and the world in empowering people with disabilities. Sygall has also been honored with the Rotary Scholar Alumni Achievement Award. She was also awarded a Graduate Rotary Scholarship and the Kellogg National Fellowship.

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