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JOHNSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — April is Autism Awareness Month.

So much has been done to try to understand the many faces of autism and at the forefront is Rhode Island’s own The Autism Project.

Thanks to technology, Elizabeth Mkhabela and Patricia Khumalo connected to Rhode Island from 8,000 miles away in Eswatini — a small country almost completely surrounded by South Africa.

Mkhabela and Khumalo have been instrumental in helping educators in their city of Manzini learn how to work with autistic children.

“Learning how to use Zoom, learning to use it as an effective platform, expanded our reach far beyond the borders of Rhode Island,” Autism Project Program Training Director Ariana DeAngelis said.

It was through a quick internet search that Mkhabela connected to DeAngelis.

“I started sending it out to everyone and Ariana answered,” Mkhabela said. “Out of the blue. We couldn’t believe it.”

“Elizabeth kind of showed us the power of doing this from the perspective of the fact that we were able to give something to them, but they gave far more to us than we gave to them,” DeAngelis said. “They taught us about looking at autism through a different cultural lens, through the lens of having different resources.”

DeAngelis said Mkhabela inspired The Autism Project to celebrate its 25 years as an organization last year, with 25 hours of training — in this case, through Zoom.

“Her whole group came on board. We had different people explaining different things. It was just so enlightening. Such exposure things we didn’t know how to handle, she shared material that we could use,” Mkhabela recalled.

All of the sessions were recorded so the training can be spread to more educators in Eswatini.

Some of the other training hours included Zoom sessions with organizations in Chile, Kenya, the Dominican Republic, and here in the Ocean State.

“We did one training to Crossroads Rhode Island,” DeAngelis said. “Our goal now is to really think about okay we’ve spent 25 years working with the children of Rhode Island, but children become adults and these adults are all over the world. These children and adults are all over the world, so how can we support people across settings, across languages, and across the lifespan?”

On Sunday, supporters of The Autism Project will lace up their walking shoes for the 21st Imagine Walk.

12 News anchor Kait Walsh will emcee the event, which will benefit programs servicing the Autism Spectrum Disorder community.

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