|© UNICEF Armenia/2005|
|Mikhail Simonyan and his mother, Rouzana.|
By Onnik Krikorian
TAVOUSH, Armenia, 5 October 2005 – When Mikhail Simonyan’s mother, Rouzana, noticed that her son was having trouble walking, she thought the three-year-old had simply taken a bit of fall, and thought nothing more of it. But a trip to the doctor proved her wrong: it seemed that Mikhail had contracted measles and the infection had spread to his inner ear. The infection caused by his bout of measles had spread to the muscles that keep his spinal cord straight.
His mother was devastated by the news. “It wasn’t until I approached various non-governmental organizations and public organizations [to ask for advice and help] that I began to come to terms with Mikhail’s condition,” she says.
“I met many children who were able to live with their disabilities, some of whom were in a worse situation than my son. This somehow filled me with hope that there was a way for Mikhail to live with his disability as well. I gave this hope to my child and told him there would be a day when he would be able to walk normally. Together, we’re still living with this hope.”
Mikhail, now seven, is getting help and remains full of hope that someday he will walk again. He attends a UNICEF-supported centre called the ‘Bridge of Hope’, which operates also with a community administrative centre, Vulnerable Families in Ijevan. These centres play a critical role in bridging the gaps in services for children with disabilities and their families.
To date over 300 children with disabilities have been assisted by the centres.
“The establishment of alternative services offered by community centres is a way forward for these children to become fully-fledged members of their communities,” says Naira Avetisyan, UNICEF’s Child Protection Officer in Armenia.
“This is why these community centres are perceived by the government as a strategic model for the integration of children with disabilities into society and into mainstream education. They are acknowledged as the alternative to institutionalization,” she adds.
A day in the life
Mikhail’s daily routine is far from easy, but thanks to Bridge of Hope, he has managed to attain a certain degree of control over his own life. In the morning he washes and dresses himself before eating breakfast and then sets off for school.
Ijevan is one of the most scenic towns in Armenia, but it is also the most difficult for those with disabilities to live in.
“Ijevan was not designed for disabled people,” says his mother. “There are no ramps, and public transport is a problem. If it’s raining, it’s almost impossible to take him to school and in the winter when there’s a lot of snow, it takes much longer. A journey that should take 30 minutes instead takes fifty.”
After school Mikhail goes to the Bridge of Hope Centre to receive rehabilitative therapy, learn computer skills, to play – he likes art classes where he can draw – and interact with both children with disabilities and those without.
Mikhail says that he likes mathematics and wants to become an astronaut.
He wants to go to university when he gets older, and while most children in Armenia might draw pictures of their homes or the biblical Mount Ararat, Mikhail has won prizes for his chalk drawings of the solar system.
Centres like those established by Bridge of Hope and can help make lives of those with disabilities better, but unfortunately, prejudice still exists in society.
“The community is very helpful,” says Mikhail’s mother. “In school they care about him, although, of course, there are some children who still don’t understand. He explains to these children that he was sick, that he is now going to a rehabilitation centre, and that very soon, he will be walking just like them. And because he’s still young, he doesn’t go out alone and so he’s spared a lot of problems.”
Read the report: ‘Children and Disability in Transition in CEE/CIS’ (opens in a new window)
UNICEF Innocenti research centre (opens in a new window)