Group of people meetingI think, for personal reasons, Wednesday will always be the most memorable day on this visit to Seoul, South Korea. Today was the Korean Day of the Disabled! I was so excited to be in South Korea for this celebration!

Joyce Bender speaking It started with an arranged meeting at the beautiful U.S. Embassy.  What a great honor it was to visit the American Embassy!

I asked the Embassy to please make sure on my visit to Seoul that I had the opportunity to meet with the epilepsy community.  The embassy did a fantastic job.  This group included a cadre of neurologists, nurses, pediatric epileptologists, advocacy groups, and people living with epilepsy.

First, the doctors told me the history and present situation for people living with epilepsy in South Korea; it all seemed to come back to one word – stigma. The neurologists explained that in South Korea epilepsy means demon possessed.  People living with epilepsy here are fearful, embarrassed, and certainly, are often living with epilepsy in secret.

I could not believe that due to the lack of funding for epilepsy, doctors are seeing up to 90 patients per day! These appointments are for a maximum of 10 minutes each! Doctors need to see as many people as possible to bring in funds for their hospital.

They were so excited to meet me.  They told me several times that I gave them hope and they so valued my visit.  As I talked more about my epilepsy, one of the young girls seated at the table began crying.  She asked me not to leave and hugged me so hard.  The diplomat with us said in eight years, he never cried at a meeting – until this meeting.  It was all about hope and longing for a role model.  I will be going back and I will not forget them.

The next part of the day I spoke at the Disability Enterprise Business Center for entrepreneurs with disabilities. This organization supports disability-owned businesses and helps them get started. There were at least 150 disability-owned businesses in the event at which I presented.  They asked me about employment and my success as an entrepreneur. We talked about how we might work together with a group like the US Business Leadership Network.  The U.S. Embassy is very interested in helping us start a joint venture. I met with so many wonderful and inspiring business owners with disabilities.  When I left, a group of business leaders came out to the van and were smiling and waving goodbye.  I loved them all.

At the end of the day, we stopped at the festival to celebrate the Korean Day of the Disabled.  Although the festival was small, it was great.  When I arrived, there were five young individuals with intellectual disabilities on the stage dancing to a hip hop song.  Their synchronized choreography was amazing.  I only wish you all could have been there.

The Day of the Disabled proved one point – we are all brothers and sisters in the world of disability!

     Mary and Joyce at the US Embassy in Seoul    Korean students with Joyce Bender

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