Delia Rivas Castillo is a lawyer from Pampatar, Margarita Island, Venezuela. She participated in an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) titled, “Women Leaders: Agents of Social Change.” This March 2016 World Learning project brought together14 female leaders from Mexico, Central and South America. The IVLP exchange was implemented by World Learning and sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

My name is Delia Rivas Castillo and I’m 33 years old. I have a law degree and I am an entrepreneur, speaker, motivator, and goldsmith. I also have a special condition called imperfect osteogenesys.

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Delia Rivas Castillo (right) with Judy Heumann, special advisor for international disability rights at the U.S. Department of State.

Being part of this prestigious program was a wonderful experience for me. It gave me the opportunity to learn, listen, and grow on a professional level and share ideas with many women from other countries with amazing cultures. Today we are more than colleagues; we are also leaders and friends.

I was chosen to participate in the program on merit, but it was a huge challenge for me due to my condition. In spite of the many difficulties, my condition has come to symbolize my love and acceptance of who I am. My life is imperfectly perfect, and for me that’s wonderful, because this condition has compelled me to develop many skills that made me able to become a strong woman. Fear is a compelling force. Together with risk-taking and hope it made me live intensely.

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Delia Rivas Castillo with World Learning Program Officer Anthony Zaun (left) and U.S. Department of State Program Officer Marta Etienne (right).

This trip challenged me to experience total independence. It is not that I don’t live independently at home. I do — but it is limited. Where I come from, almost nothing is designed for people with physical disabilities. In the US, however, I could cross a street easily with my program mates. I felt so free as I walked on my own with them, without the fear of something bad happening to me. I even videotaped myself walking so my mom could see me doing it, like any other person, free, able, and confident. It was fun every moment.

Don’t get me wrong, I manage to do many things here in my country despite all the limitations, but being in the US made my confidence grow even more. I have retained a feeling of empowerment that radiates when I speak at conferences about following your dreams and realizing your true potential.

From this incredible program I have more than beautiful memories; I returned home with a suitcase packed with new ideas. Some of these are from professional encounters; others are from being in the US and gaining a broader understanding of the structure that makes its citizens and government dynamic.

Being an empowered woman with a disability is not a conflict, nor is it limiting. Limitations are in the mind, and you chose to put them there or not. I am eternally grateful to IVLP, and I hope to have more of these kinds of amazing experiences in the future.

World Learning empowers people, communities, and institutions to create a more peaceful and just world.

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