Brent Elder at one of his first meetings in Bahrain.
Brent Does Bahrain
Kellogg School Teacher Goes to Middle East to Help Special Needs Students
Friday, June 29, 2007
Although content with my tenured position at Kellogg School in Goleta, I’ve always wanted to be paid to travel.
So last February, while attending a conference hosted by CalTASH - an organization that supports community participation by individuals with disabilities - I told my mentor at dinner that I wanted to go to developing countries to assist students with special needs. Then I serendipitously met Dr. Richard Villa at the conference, a doctor with connections to Honduras, Bahrain, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and China. I gave him my international spiel, and he requested my resume and cover letter. Suddenly, my summer fantasies turned from drinking beer daily at Hammonds Beach to traveling abroad to help children.
After a week or so of intense waiting, I was contacted by Dr. Lori Bradshaw of the Royal University for Women in Bahrain. We began corresponding, and discovered that our combined experience could help bring Bahrain what it needs: transition services for people with special needs, which are largely non-existent in Bahrain.
The flag of Bahrain.
Despite my enthusiasm, the $2,500 flight plus living expenses did not come as a “summer bonus” from the Goleta Union School District. Luckily, the U.S. Embassy - at Dr. Bradshaw’s request - agreed to pay for my flight and then realtor Mitchell Morehart, who works with Village Properties, expressed an interest in funding my trip. After an excessive amount of thanks, and much more disbelief, I was on my way!
My plans were met with some disapproval by friends and family, since Bahrain is in the heart of the supposedly war-ravaged Middle East. Plus, as a tall American, I’d certainly be an eyesore who would have a hard time blending in a primarily Islamic country. Though I knew Bahrain was not actively engaged in the current U.S. conflict with Iraq, I began researching the Bahraini culture.
I found that the Kingdom of Bahrain is a country 15 miles off the coast of Saudi Arabia, connected only by a causeway. The risks of traveling in this region are considered no more “unsafe” to travelers anywhere else in the world. That appeased my family, sort of.
Then I started making connections with the families I will work with, and discovered that they are simply people whose lives have been impacted by an individual with special needs. Despite the Middle East’s explosive reputation, Bahraini people are not defined by region, war, ability, or religion. They are a kingdom with unique values and beliefs, a country like any other that simply needs help in making life better for their citizens who have special needs.
And that is my goal.