Inspired by Lucas, a 9 year old boy on the Autism Spectrum, Andrea Villasmil decided roughly two years ago that she wanted to write a children’s book focused on themes of inclusion and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Through this book, Andrea wanted children with ASD to be further represented in literature so that all children could benefit from learning about inclusion and how differences make us unique. And, she wanted proceeds from the book to support children with special needs from low socio-economic backgrounds. She had the idea and the passion but wasn’t sure where she would find the funding to make her dream a reality. After receiving an email from CIEE, she applied for, and was awarded, a CIEE Exchange Ambassador Grant and was finally able to move forward with her idea.
Andrea wrote the book and enlisted her sister to help with the illustrations. In addition to writing the book, Andrea is working in collaboration with the non-profit organization ‘Camina Conmigo’ in Ecuador. This is the only organization in Ecuador that promotes inclusive education awareness at a national level. They partnered in order to further their common mission of advocating for people with disabilities and their human right to receive a quality education and be a part of our society. The partnership with ‘Camina Conmigo’ will provide a larger platform to promote the book, ‘Volamos Juntos’ (We Fly Together) to more people. You can follow Camina Conmigo on Instagram for updates and more details on the book.
It’s been quite a process to bring the book from concept to print, but Andrea says it has been an incredible journey, “I am continuing to learn that you have to be able to pivot and adapt to circumstances in order to still pursue your goals and dreams. It was that advice that launched me into developing the project and applying to the CIEE Exchange Ambassador Grants. I’ve learned I have nothing to lose, and absolutely everything to gain.”
After working on this project for more than two years, Andrea said this is just the beginning of a lifelong mission for her. She hopes to pursue a master’s degree in inclusive education in order to increase her knowledge on this important subject, plans to continue her partnership with ‘Camina Conmigo’, and hopes to continue creating children’s books on different special needs.
“It has been a pleasure to work with CIEE. Their enthusiasm, professionalism, and support have been invaluable. It still seems unreal to see my project showcased on CIEE platforms. I feel as if my project was a dream and an idea until I received the email to apply to the CIEE Exchange Ambassador Grants. My experience with the grant has made my idea become a reality.”