Mushvig Dadashzade, 17, does not easily open up with strangers. But when he shows his million-dollar smile the room lights up with joy. With the assistance of a young caregiver, he slowly begins to tell his life story, his dreams, and goals.
Mushvig has had cerebral palsy since birth, and many basic activities, such as walking, are a severe challenge for him. But he is a very fortunate young man because for the past 10 years he has been studying at a centre run by the Mushvig Society for Helping Children with Disability, founded his mother.
The centre gives him a chance to socialize and interact with other children, most of whom have some disability. In Azerbaijan most children with such disabilities are confined to their homes or to institutions, as parents fear the stigma attached to such a condition.
A full range of programmes and activities are provided at the centre, provided by dedicated staff. This allows him to develop his talents in ways that are not usually available to disabled children. Drama theatre is Mushvig’s favourite activity, and he attends drama classes twice a week. In his latest major role Mushvig played Movsun, a deputy director of a scientific research institute.
Mushvig hopes to become a professional actor one day, and he especially loves comedy. He enjoys acting because it allows him to be someone else, and to try on different personalities and types.
Unable to walk, Mushvig hardly seems like a candidate to play sports. But, it’s absolutely crucial for a child with his condition to develop their bodies and prevent muscles from atrophying. Mushvig tries to play everything that his condition allows – handball, basketball, and arm wrestling, which he excels at and, indeed, always wins.
As with hundreds of other children who have passed through the centre, Mushvig is unfortunately one of the lucky few. The vast majority of disabled children in Azerbaijan remain deprived of these basic opportunities so necessary for a proper and fulfilling childhood.