Inclusion Video story

‘I want them to live a full life’

How a man with a vision and a group of like-minded parents work together to give children with disabilities their best shot at a full, happy life

For parents of children with mental or physical disabilities, it’s often a struggle to find the right kind of education and learning experiences that will help their children have their best chance at a happy, full life.

Such was the case for Abdumalik, who had nowhere to turn to when he realized his son, Ilgiz, had Down Syndrome. In his somewhat remote town of Talas in western Kyrgyzstan, there were no existing schools or educational centres for children with severe physical or mental handicaps.

“When we wanted to send our child to kindergarten, ordinary kindergartens did not accept him,” recalls Abdumalik. “So I gathered parents who had the same challenge and organized this centre together.”

The centre he is talking about is known locally as Tenir-Koldoo, an unassuming, one-story building in which children aged 3 to 16 who have Down Syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy or mental retardation gather a wide range of basic life skills, as well as practice arts, sports, writing, game playing and much more. The centre was built in 2009 with support from the Kyrgyzstan Red Crescent.

The Tenir-Koldoo centre for disabled children aims to offer kids with disabilities their shot at a full, happy life. “My son Ilgiz is now 15 years old,” says his father Abdumalik. “He studies at our centre.  Now he speaks well. He can write and read. He loves to play football, or he plays on the computer.”

On an average day at Tenir-Koldoo, you find students hunched over their notebooks, working on their writing skills. Or they may be playing with hand puppets in the playroom, or taking shots at the goal in the small outdoor area for football and other sports. Or they may be working on a computer.

“My son is now 15 years old,” says Abdumalik. “He studies at our centre.  Now he speaks well. He can write and read. He loves to play football, or he plays on the computer.”

Thanks to the centre, the students are far more independent than they might otherwise be. They can dress, do household tasks, make food, read and write and generally take care of themselves. Just as important, they are learning to express themselves through writing, art and music.

In most respects, Tenir-Koldoo is like any other small, local school. Students like 13-year-old Diana are dropped off by their parents, after which they put their coats and hats in their lockers before going off to classrooms decorated with paintings, collages, maps and blackboards.

On one recent day, Diana worked out math equations on a classroom blackboard, worked on writing assignments and made cartoon-like drawings from her own imagination. Like any good education, learning here is not just about practical, but providing the tools and skills to allow their imaginations to fully blossom.

“We came to the centre when Diana was 9 years old,” says Antonina Skorgovskaya, who works in Talas Regional Hospital and therefore could not be able to provide care, education at home. “The centre provides good support. Good training and good support.  She likes to draw.  She used to love drawing horses, now she draws cartoons. I haven’t seen them on TV, she takes it all out of her head.”

Like all the students at Tenir-Koldoo, 13-year old daughter Diana gets daily instruction in reading and writing from the centre’s specialized staff. “We came to the centre when Diana was 9 years old,” says Antonina Skorgovskaya, Diana’s mother. “The centre provides good support.  She likes to draw.  She used to love drawing horses, now she draws cartoons. I haven’t seen them on TV, she takes it all out of her head.”

Challenges ahead

For the Red Crescent Society of Kyrgyzstan, which has a mandate to support the most vulnerable, the centre meets a very real and important need. Children with disabilities can not only fall through the cracks because of lack of services, but because there is still a lot of stigma about mental retardation. Many local institutions and informal gathering places for young people — or other young people — do not always accept people with handicaps with open arms.

Diana’s mom witnessed that painful reality. “People laugh because she can’t speak normally,” says Skorgovskaya. “Some people thought it was contagious and they tried to limit contact with her.”

The centre is not only a safe haven but stands as a statement that children with disabilities are about so much more than their handicaps. Still there is more to do and Abdumalik is already thinking about his next project, for older students who are looking for more independence and to support themselves.

“Unfortunately, children who are 16 years old have nowhere to go,” he says. “We are thinking of opening another centre where we will teach skills so that when they are done, they will be able to get a job.”

In the meantime, it’s a great relief to help children at critical formative stages.  “The sooner we start teaching and training such children, the more they will learn,” he says. “I would like these children to create a family and live a full life.”

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