Removing Shame and Stigma through Inclusive Education
Allow me to step into Uzbekistan and share more stories of this nation, a place that will remain in my heart for a long time. Uzbekistan is located in Central Asia with over 31 million inhabitants.
When I first arrived, I quickly learned that my project visits would be mostly about water (as I mentioned in one of my first posts). The fact that water is such a pressing issue of the nation, it only made sense that my project visits reflect this critical challenge.
Despite the focus on water, other projects were added to my basket of visits and I was incredibly excited to learn I would have the chance to meet heroes championing the integration of children with special need.
The teachers, nurses, policy-makers and many other courageous individuals are fighting to create an inclusive educational world where children special needs and vulnerable groups such as orphans and children from poor families are given equal opportunities.
National Social Support Centre in Samarkand
I walked into the “National Social Support Centre” where I was greeted by staff who showed me around the centre, which is dedicated to providing facilities that can rehabilitate and support children with special needs. This environment creates a safe space for the children and their parents or caretakers.
The centre in Samarkand is one of five Pilot Resource Centres that have been opened. In the time span of several years, the centres have provided more than 2,000 services for children with special needs and their families.
One of the parents told me her feelings about the centre and said, “I feel a sense of ‘home’ every time I come here”.
Making Waves and Movement
The centres provide a space for different recreational activities – from swimming in a pool designed specifically to accommodate children with special needs to exercise equipment that could train body movement.
One nurse opened up to me in a short discussion and said, “Really, you could see the happiness in their [the children] eyes – it also change the attitudes of the parents.”
My most touching discussions was with the parents who admitted feeling personal shame and stigma for their children. They felt that at one point in time, their children were excluded and abandoned from society. The parents sometimes felt like they had no choice but to keep silent. This programme slowly shifted the mindsets of the children and parents. The children with special needs began transitioning into mainstream schools where their non-disabled peers could adapt and grow up shedding their prejudices.
Building an inclusive community is at the heart of this programme, and I saw first-hand how the efforts of so many people are impacting many people. An inclusive school is one where everyone is welcomed regardless of their background and everyone has an equal opportunity to learn and contribute to daily aspects of the school.
The leaders (and unsung heroes) who are a part of the programme is slowly shifting the way the country accepts and integrates children and people with special needs, both at a social and educational level.
The EU-supported project “Inclusive Education for Children with Special Needs in Uzbekistan” has improved the quality of education for children with special needs aged 2–10 and promote their integration in mainstream kindergartens and primary schools in Uzbekistan.