by Aleli Alcala
Hi, I’m Aleli. I’m the Chief Operations and Sustainability Officer at Amara and PCF.
Today is the third Thursday of May, which means it’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day. A celebration that holds a personal significance in my life.
My parents came to the United States from the Philippines when I was eight years old. I still distinctly remember how scary it was to land at the Seattle/Tacoma airport where everyone looked and sounded different. And nothing that was familiar, that I had known all my life, was anywhere to be seen. It truly felt like an alien world.
Back in the Philippines, we came from a small town, where everyone knew each other. The streets were always full of people and activities.
At our hotel, where my father’s company had put us up until we could find permanent housing, I felt so far away from the home we left behind. There was none of the same food, everyone was a stranger, and the streets were cold and empty.
I found myself in a world so different from the home I had always known.
We had definitely come to a very foreign place. We stood out. It was impossible to feel like we belonged. We looked different, sounded different, and we couldn’t escape the fact that we now needed to speak a language other than the one we’ve always known. If you can’t fathom or imagine how this feels… I can tell you– it is a very lonely feeling.
Although my parents were strong and pushed ahead at every turn, I saw how hard this adventure was on them. It left a memorable mark on my 8 year old self.
For one, I learned how important it was to feel connected and be part of a community. It also deeply instilled in me the value of kindness.
When I have found myself in a foreign place or situation, there was nothing more comforting than the kind smile of a stranger, there to help. However, when language was a barrier, this proved to be challenging.
This life experience drove me to find a way to ensure people can more easily connect, be part of the conversation, and feel like they belong. To better enable kind strangers to help those in need of getting to know their new communities, new homes, new situations. And, to provide a way for those who find themselves in these circumstances the means to access useful information.
Forward to a number of years later. I am now a professional with a pretty successful career having graduated from college and worked for both for-profit and nonprofit organizations. My parents’ hard work, to get their children the education they hoped would bring them the lives they dreamt of, paid off.
At this particular time in my life, I was looking for something new to do. Work that meant more than just making money, or getting money for some project or new venture. Work that made a difference in people’s lives, our planet, something that would make me get up everyday with more passion to go to work than I had been feeling at that point.
So I began my search for this something, and the Universe answered with a few choices, which I whittled down to two: a project called Amara with a super small nonprofit org, the Participatory Culture Foundation (PCF); OR a high-paying job with an interesting for-profit company, which I will not name here, but a good-sized tech company based in the US :)
This is how I found Amara.
As I explored both opportunities further, I was blown away at how strong the pull was to choose the Amara project at PCF. Surprised mostly, because it was such a risk. An unknown, small nonprofit that at the time was launching just its second initiative called Amara. In business speak – a pretty high risk!
However, I couldn’t shake the fact that something like Amara could make such a huge difference to so many people, ensuring they had access to trusted information in their own languages. This could be life-changing, for people like my parents, who might find themselves in foreign lands or in circumstances where language barriers and cultural differences can have you on the outside looking in.
In my mind, I saw Amara helping to unlock the cumulative benefits of ensuring everyone had access to all of the information available online, especially information that would help them be a part of the conversation, connect with their communities, and ultimately, feel like they belong.
Remembering the sacrifices my parents made– leaving friends and family to create a better future for their children– leaving everything they had known that was comfortable and familiar… all of their struggles over the years, especially with language and cultural differences. I envisioned how Amara, along with other technologies available today, could have made a difference for them. It was a no-brainer. I chose Amara.
A world we want to live in.
I have been working with Amara for almost 12 years now! We are a small nonprofit powered by amazing, talented, and good-hearted people. A small but mighty group of thinkers and doers continuously striving to create the world we want to live in.
For me, this is a world where everyone feels included and heard. And to me, this starts with a more inclusive media landscape.
I believe Amara exists to foster this more inclusive media landscape.
Amara is a powerful conduit that can enable content creators, local community agencies, and volunteers from all over the world to work together in a more integrated and cohesive fashion– ensuring that our media landscape is diverse, credible, and universally accessible. So today, I stand tall with Amara for Global Accessibility Awareness Day by telling you the story of how I came on this path.
Working with Amara, I have found my purpose. I help create the necessary tools for a digital experience that anyone from anywhere can be a part of and enjoy. Today, Amara enables people to come together, ensures they are seen, heard, and have access to critical information that many of us take for granted.
I’m impassioned to deliver on Amara’s mission. It brings me full circle to my 8-year old self who wanted so badly to help my parents navigate their new world, so they could fit in and feel connected.
I invite you to join the Amara Community of doers and thinkers. We need your help to broaden accessibility, inclusion, and our collective voice. Be a Changemaker, a Global Citizen and join us in celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day! You can find more information about GAAD and ways you can participate on their website.
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Gandhi