Helping Children with Disabilities in Belarus
Children living in poverty face many challenges, but
for children with disabilities, life can be exceedingly difficult. Belarus, a
small country in Eastern Europe, has a significant population of disabled
people, including many children. Since 1993, ChildFund
has worked to improve the quality of life for children in need
across Belarus, including those affected by physical disabilities and learning
Data from UNICEF
suggests that there are fewer children with disabilities in Belarus now compared
with previous decades, due in part to focused interventions by child development
agencies and the Belarusian government. However, it is estimated that there
are still more than 25,000 children living with disabilities in Belarus, and
an additional 120,000 who are in desperate need of special education that can
accommodate their needs.
The situation is worse in orphanages and
institutions. The number of children living in these facilities has doubled
since 1995, and according to UNICEF, approximately 35 percent of
Belarus's almost 30,000 institutionalized children are living with some form of
mental or physical disability. For many, these challenges prove too difficult to
overcome, and their likelihood of attending a school that can meet their needs
is greatly diminished.
One of the most problematic
social aspects of child disability in Belarus is that many parents decide to
homeschool their children out of fear that they will be ridiculed in a public
school environment. Although this approach may be suitable in some cases,
children isolated at home may miss out on crucial opportunities for social
interaction and skills that will prepare them for later life. Other children are
simply withdrawn from school altogether, perpetuating the cycle of
In recent years, the
Belarusian government has made inclusion of disabled children with
disabilities a priority, but there is still much to do.
with disabilities are the most vulnerable in society," Marie-Pierre Poirier,
UNICEF's regional director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth
of Independent States, said at a meeting in Geneva earlier this year. "We need
to address the failure to register children with disabilities. They need to come
into the child welfare and social protection systems, be recognized and not
swept under the carpet."
In 2011, ChildFund
launched a program called "Expanding Participation of People With Disabilities"
with funding from the United States Agency for International
Development (USAID). Through this initiative, we have been able to reach out to
families of children with special needs and provide them with training and
resources to cope with the unique pressures of raising a child with
disabilities in Belarusian society.
Through these training sessions,
parents are empowered to face their challenges with greater confidence, and children have
also been encouraged receive encouragement to overcome their social difficulties
through dance and other creative outlets.
"Thanks to ChildFund, my
daughter opened up and overcame her shyness," says the mother of Nastya, who
participated in the program. "I look at the progress Nastya made during the last
six months. Now, my daughter is looking forward to going to school. I am
absolutely sure that she will find many friends at school."
ChildFund helped more than 4,000 people with disabilities and their families
access a range of services, including specialized health care, educational
opportunities and vocational training. We have also worked with the Belarusian
government to spearhead support more than 120 advocacy initiatives to reduce the
stigmatization of disabilities in the country. To maintain this momentum, we
need your help.
One of the best ways to help us end discrimination
against children with disabilities in Belarus is by making a donation to our Children's
Greatest Needs fund. Your support and generosity will enable us to reach
even more children and give them the support they need to live happier,