My beautiful girl has spent the past four years living 3,000 miles away from home and family attending university, and this May she graduated. As any parent, naturally I could not be more proud of her. But aside from the standard parental pride, I realize that the achievement of college graduation for my daughter and her classmates truly is remarkable and anything but ordinary. You see, my beautiful daughter was diagnosed at a very early age with significant developmental delays and mental retardation. And from a very early age I was told not to expect too much for her in the way of education and development, and certainly I should never entertain the notion of her achieving independence. I was even told by a physician when she was only two years old that there was a place for children like my daughter in an institution if the prospect of raising her proved to be too difficult for me. And when she was ten years old, her teachers and specialists advised that I remove her from the classroom and focus less on academics and more on independent living skills which in their minds included selling pencils to students in the school's office.
Perhaps it was my own stubbornness or perhaps it was because from the time she was an infant, I saw a light in my daughter's eyes that prevented me from putting too much significance in ill-advised educators, specialists and physicians that failed to see what I saw. I realized, as her mother, that no one knew my daughter as well as I did and that if she was to recognize her full potential I would have to blaze new trails for her and challenge the status quo in how the world viewed educating children with disabilities.
And so I have. I have spent her life advocating on her behalf seeking new and better ways to help her realize an independent life. As I look at her now, I understand just how far she has come and I am reminded of all the difficulties along the way as we fought together to expand opportunities for individuals with disabilities. I am also reminded that our fight will undoubtedly continue as we persist in challenging the status quo - her, in her unwavering strength and courage, and me, in my belief of her.
I believe that any child, regardless of ability, should be given the opportunity to recognize their full potential and live their dreams. Though I understand that for some like my daughter this is a difficult proposition made more difficult by the lack of support services in many developing countries available to these special children. And it is because of this reason that I have made helping disabled children in developing countries my life's work. I have seen first-hand what the proper resources can mean to a child with special needs and how the lives of these children can be transformed. This is what Operation Exceptional Child is all about - seeking new and better ways to expand opportunities for children with disabilities in challenging environments like Afghanistan, and helping these special children realize their dreams and transform their lives.