When President Barack Obama was elected in 2008 he pledged to extend open hands of friendship and dialogue to all people of the world. From this pledge grew the Open Hands Initiative, a nonprofit organization founded in 2009 by American businessman and philanthropist, Jay T. Snyder.
The Open Hands Initiative’s mission is to support people-to-people diplomacy by creating cross-cultural dialogue and building global friendships through exchanges between American and international youth. By focusing on our similarities and areas of commonality, they can create platforms for exchange that emphasize our mutual values rather than our differences.
One of their primary programs is aimed at promoting the rights of persons with disabilities. Out of this goal came the idea and execution of an exchange project between American and Syrian disabled youth. This “Youth Ability Summit” held in Damascus in 2010, became a platform for the youth to share their stories, cultures, and ideas on how to promote the rights of disabled persons around the world. During the Summit, the youths worked closely with disability experts and Liquid Comics to create the first ever cross-cultural, disabled superhero called the “Silver Scorpion.”
The “Silver Scorpion,” is the brainchild of the youths who collaborated during the Summit, and it tells the story of a Muslim boy named Bashir who loses his legs in a landmine accident and later gains the powerful ability to bend metal with his mind. This comic is an innovative approach to people-to-people diplomacy, turning a group of extraordinary young people with disabilities into unlikely diplomats. It encourages understanding, dialogue, and tolerance not just for persons with disabilities, but also for people from different cultures around the world.
Since the Youth Ability Summit and the publication of the “Silver Scorpion,” the Open Hands Initiative has been distributing the comic book across the United States and the Muslim world. It has reached the hands of more than 30,000 Americans, 12,000 Egyptians, and soon several thousand Lebanese and Syrian youth, teachers, and disability experts as well. Moreover, the Open Hands Initiative is partnering with Liquid Comic and MTV Voices to launch an animated web series based off of the Silver Scorpion story that is available online in three languages across the world.
The Youth Ability Summit also hosted a three-day writing workshop which produced the first cross-cultural guidebook for implementing the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This manual was authored jointly by disability experts from Syria and America. The manual entitled “Ensuring Rights in Development,” can be found on the Open Hands Initiative Website, along with a digital version of the “Silver Scorpion.”
For more information about the Open Hands Initiative please visit www.openhandsinitiative.org.
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