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When love is effective: the Melba Olvera story.

Some years ago, in the Mexican State of Baja California something very unusual was attracting local and national attention: the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which had just been ratified by Mexico, was being spread, and promoted in the local context. The activist responsible for this endeavor was very unique as well; she was a young public official acting like a fervent activist. She was convinced the Convention had to be known by as many people with disabilities as possible and the sooner the better. This very visionary woman broke with the unwritten protocol that prohibits bureaucrats from being involved in the promotion of human rights. She has always believed if you have aware public officials, they will eventually end up doing what they are supposed to do. If people with disabilities and their families are aware; they will act as self defenders and promoters. The name of this intrepid woman is Melba Adriana Olvera Rodriguez, a Tijuana native, who thinks love and the search for justice are her mission in life: “You may think I’m tacky, that’s ok; love is what moves me. I don´t have another reason.”

It was Christmas season when a 16 year old Melba discovered her mission in life. She had always wanted to work for those less fortunate than herself. She was in charge of organizing a huge Christmas celebration for children with disabilities. She remembers the bright and hopeful smile of a girl using a walker who hurried up to meet with Santa Claus: “In that precise moment, I knew I wanted to help others reach their own happiness. You don´t reach your own until you have contributed to others.”

Deciding on her mission was not entirely related to her own experience as a person with disabilities. She did not see herself as “disabled” but as independent, confident and capable. Her family made the difference. “If children with disabilities have support, they will achieve whatever they want.” Melba points out life is still difficult, “You have to try as many times as needed until you finally prove that you can do it”.

Although Melba graduated from university with the highest honors and had worked for people with disabilities, she faced discrimination and had to struggle to find a job. In Mexico only 4% of people with disability have a university education, 32.9% of them are illiterate. Also, just 30% of them have a full time job. Discrimination and lack of accessibility are the two reasons behind these numbers. Finally Melba was hired in the Integral Family Development System, Mexican social services. She worked there for ten years for the inclusion of people with disabilities. Very unique rehabilitation parks were only one huge contribution during her administration in Baja California.

Her atypical work brought the attention of the Human Rights National Commission, the highest national body responsible for human rights protection and for monitoring the implementation of the UN Convention. Even though she was not a lawyer, but an expert in communication; Melba was invited to work there because her efforts resembled more a human rights activist than a typical bureaucrat. She refused many times; she had just married and her family was living in Tijuana. She finally accepted and has become one of the strongest disability advocates in Mexico. She saw this opportunity as a sign: “when there is an opportunity knocking on your door so many times, it has to mean something, you’d better take it”. After only two years, she was appointed as the Head of the Disabilities Direction which is in charge of safeguarding rights for people with disabilities in the whole country.

People who have known Melba since she was 12 say she has always been the same bossy but caring girl fighting to empower others. She has won social and governmental recognition of people with disabilities. She takes very seriously the U.N. Convention slogan “nothing about us without us”. She believes if we are aware of our rights, we can transmit the right message and provoke a chain of significant changes and realities. Melba asserts promoting the complaints against human rights violations is indispensible; supervising the observation of the U.N. Convention is mandatory; and education about human rights is fundamental. Therefore, education has to be the highest priority for people with disabilities and their governments.

Melba stresses, “As women and people with disabilities we must work to dignify ourselves and exercise our right to be autonomous and independent. We must not allow ourselves to be seen and treated as third class citizens. “Under this approach, we must view disability as a social concern rather than an individual affliction. It is a social duty to educate ourselves and raise awareness that disability is everybody’s concern.” She also thinks people with disabilities have to assume their responsibility in the country’s development: “We have an obligation, not an option”. Melba is also recognized in the field for having a conciliatory perspective. This year she was selected as one of the 30 women international leaders taking part in the Women’s Institute on Leadership and Disability 2013 sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development and Mobility International.

Even if Melba has based her journey of advocacy on the search for her own happiness she does not deny that sometimes she feels very tired and questions why she must work so hard. When she is invited to be a speaker her own physical disability still makes some people wonder if she will be able to reach the microphone or articulate knowledge of her rights. Melba in action is a true inspiration, leading by example. Some people define Melba as a living proof of hope. This beautiful young woman not only fights for people’s rights, just seeing and listening to her convinces you anybody can accomplish whatever they want to achieve. In a country like Mexico, with family support and education disabilities are not limitations. This is how happiness can actually move mountains. Melba believes in love. You may think love is tacky but effective indeed.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

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Comments

Nadz's picture

I love your story

Congratulations Klaudia, I think your story is well written. Good work.

Life is just for living

Klaudia Mexico's picture

Thank you Nad for your kind

Thank you Nad for your kind comments!

Klaudia González

Iryna's picture

Inspiring

This woman is very inspiring! The story of 16-years old Melba was so touching and so bright in the same time.
The situation in Ukraine with disabled people is not better. These people often have to feel out of life. Very seldom you can find here special ramps, and sidewalks are in such awful condition that even so easy to walk, in wheeling chairs it seems impossible. For this reason many disables live their lives inside of appartments like in prisons. That's very sad situation, and I appreciate that people like you. Klaudia, and like Melba so strongly fight for the rights of these people! You are doing a great work!

Warmest wishes from Ukraine,
Iryna

Klaudia Mexico's picture

spasibo!

Dear Iryna

I thank you for the great words of encouragement. As you may know we have so much work to do in our countries. Melba, you and I are just a simple proof that we can change our realities for good,

May the efforts in Mexico encourage changes everywhere is needed.
All the best
Klaudia

Klaudia González

Potter's picture

Yes!!!

Klaudia, I see you are beginning to receive admiring comments and WP has not yet announced your post. This is a brilliant article. I love the pictures and how you provided links to the organizations and statistics you cited. This is a great example of solid, advocacy journalism. Lovely work!!!

Klaudia Mexico's picture

yes indeed!

Dear Jana
Thanks for your support and help. This is great team work!!!

Klaudia González

Aleja2510's picture

I like the history

Congratulations!!!!

Desde que escuche la historia me encanto!!!! más allá de conocer la labor de una excelente persona, como lo es Mel, creo que la forma como lo has descrito y transmitido en este texto es muy buena.

when the people find your mission in the world, worth living!!!

Klaudia Mexico's picture

gracias

De hecho me sirvieron mucho tus comentarios, los agregué al pie de la letra, Muchas gracias por tu ayuda y tus valiosos comentarios.

Klaudia González

Ayunnie's picture

Living proof of hope

Hi Klaudia,
Thank you for bringing out the story of Melba;she is an inspiration and living proof of hope. Disability is still infested with a lot of stigma and discrimination even in my country Kenya. May we continue to preach elimination of all forms of discrimination through world pulse and as voices which are honed to speak for the voiceless.

@ Nairobi KENYA
Women have impeccable character, if tapped society realizes quantum leap in development

Klaudia Mexico's picture

hope

I think the key to succed is never lose our hopes. So, I thought Melba was an excellent example to portray how we can commit ourselves despite our background, gender, etc.
Thanks for your kind words of encouragement.
All the best

Klaudia González

Aminah's picture

“nothing about us without us”

Indeed, nothing can change unless we, the people in the midst of it contribute.
The rights of the poor cannot really be understood without understanding their true needs.
The same goes for abused children, battered women, disadvantage people etc etc.

That's the true inspiration Melba is emanating.
Thank you for bringing her to us.

Salaam
Aminah

Indeed we have to make room for those who are inflicted so they can take change in their own hands.
I thought of Melba as a perfect example of this.
Thanks for your kind words and support,

Klaudia González

Mukut's picture

I LOVE it !!!

"You may think love is tacky, but effective indeed !" How brilliant is that. This is a wonderfully written piece about a great leader. A woman with conviction and hope. Brilliant Atta Girl !

Love and hugs,

Mukut Ray

Klaudia Mexico's picture

Great women

Dear Mukut

I'm really glad you have enjoyed Melba's piece. I want to bring you somebody with conviction and hope indeed.

Klaudia González

rabia.salihi's picture

A great leader indeed

To start at 16 and move on with 'love' towards achieving a great goal, it's amazing. Melba has done great job in the path that she is following and leading. Thank you for the story; it is very inspirational.
Cheers,
Rabi

rabi

Klaudia Mexico's picture

love and its power

Dear Rabi
Thanks for your kind words, I try to picture a regular human being pursuing a happy life. We all can be heroes or not, but we all can help to change our realities.
cheers,

Klaudia González

Greengirl's picture

There is Ability in Disability

More often than not, disability is viewed only in terms of physical challenges. Whatever be our view, I want to say that what we must know is that all forms of disability can be overcome. All it takes is for one to look inward and listen to that voice within. That I believe was what Melba Adriana Olvera Rodriguez did. Good for her that she realized very very early in life that beyond her seeming disability, she had an ability which she could use to bring about change.

Her admire the influence she wields as well as the significant and rippling changes she has brought about.

Klaudia, you deserve a standing ovation for this well written Profile. I enjoyed reading it.

Bravo!
Greengirl

Dear Greengirl

I do appreciate your words. Indeed, disabilities can be certainly overcome and Melba is a living proof.

All the best

Klaudia González

TinaN's picture

Touching piece Klaudia

This is very inspiring,Melba is doing a great job.I mean there are so many disabled people on the streets this side and most of them look down upon themselves.
To see somebody fighting for them like this is so touching

Melba is just doing a regular job, it's just happen to be related to people with disabilities. What is really inspiring is the effort, passion and commitment she has put on it.
Thanks for your kind words!!!

Klaudia González

Deqa's picture

Inspiring indeed. "Some

Inspiring indeed. "Some people define Melba as a living proof of hope." Yes she certainly is a proof of hope. I know people with disability are pretty much an outcast here in Somalia due to lack of awareness and knowledge. I believe in her struggle and what a great path to choose. She is doing an awesome job and you my dear have articulated her story beautifully. I am inspired. Excellend choice my dear and Well done.
Deqa

Klaudia Mexico's picture

hope

Dear Deqa
Thanks for reading this piece! What Melba is doing sooner or later will impact the life of every human living with disabilities. Let's keep our hopes.
All the best,

Klaudia González

pelamutunzi's picture

love moves me too

I LOVED this profile. I wish I could meet melba in person. the world need to do away with discrimination and stigmatization. love will make it possible. iam glad you chose her and great write up too.

we may be powerless to stop an injustice but let there never be a time we fail to protest.
regards
pela

libudsuroy's picture

Hi, Klaudia, thank you for

Hi, Klaudia, thank you for Melba's story. You have shared with us a story that is seldom told, a topic that is seldom discussed in a field that is most often left on the fringes of our societies and cultures.
You have broken the silence on the disabled and the vast potential for power and growth that is left untapped.
Let the stories of power and resilience pour from your pen!

Blessings,
libudsuroy/Lina Sagaral Reyes
Mindanao, The Philippines

''Every Day is a Journey and the Journey itself is Home.'' (Matsuo Basho)

“In that precise moment, I knew I wanted to help others reach their own happiness. You don´t reach your own until you have contributed to others.” - Melba

Klaudia, excellent piece! It left me wanting to learn more about you, Melba and this specific topic. Thank YOU for your hard work, dedication and focus with these written words and Melba... you are loved!

Molly

Molly Rudberg-Leshnock
Curator of Leadership
Brand Storyteller
mrudberg@mrlpro.com

Dear Klaudia,

Thank you for this beautiful story or resilience. I struggle everyday with seeing the exclusion from our society of people based on their mental of physical disabilities. Though I am not a big fun of this term because I do not believe that a person with a physical or mental challenge is not able to contribute anything in our society.
Your story and the story of Melba prove my point indeed. You did an amazing job at keeping the fact that Melba is herself disable in the background, as if it is not that important. She does what she does because she loves people and want them to be happy. Her disability only comes second to that. I also like the fact that you do not really say what her disability is. It keeps the reader wondering till the end, but it also makes the readers understand that this fact is not important to the story nor to the life of Melba.
I am curious about some of the concrete ways Melba has been bringing change. Has she organized campaigns? How does she work to change these terrible statistics in Mexico? (only if you have time to answer)
Great job Klaudia!
Cheers,

Delphine Criscenzo
Outreach and Training Associate
World Pulse
www.worldpulse.com

Hideko N.'s picture

“You have to try as many

“You have to try as many times as needed until you finally prove that you can do it” Thank you for sharing such touching article. It has given me so much courage to face divilitating reality of my life. In fact, I know quite few persons with disabilities around me who made me feel my problems are very small. Love, Hideko N.

Maura Bogue's picture

Great Work!

Great work! This is a well-written and in-depth profile. You weren’t afraid to dive into Melba’s life and ask the hard questions.

Next time, make sure the most important information is toward the beginning of your story. That way, readers understand what the key points are.

Keep up the good work!

Best,
Maura

keronga's picture

Good work

Hi Claudia, this is very good. Congratulations. I wished everybody could take the issue of disability seriously. There is so much suffering at the grassroot level. My heart goes out to them.

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