Special children living in a special country
Escaping from loneliness
“That’s it, honey, we're here...”, says Angela Savin and with a trembling hand she opens the gate of the kindergarten in Oxentea village, Dubasari rayon. Gabriel, her 5-years old son to whom the words are addressed, claps his hands with happiness. With an expansive smile he enters the room where the children are playing and for a second all eyes are on him. In that moment the boy would like to run up to them, to forget about everything and to join the playful crowd... But, unfortunately, he can do none of these things. The child remains where he is, waiting for his mother to lead him to a far-off desk...
At 5 years old, Gabriel Savin is already a fighter. Even though he was diagnosed with epilepsy and infantile cerebral paralysis he is determined to go to a regular kindergarten. This would be the first time a child with such an illness attends the local school and his mother says that she will not give up. “In the village there are other children with special needs that the parents kept them at home and I see how these children grow. These are children without a future, isolated from the world and lacking attention from those living around them. I want a different future for Gabriel", says Angela Savin.
Together with the kindergarten management, she decided to make an attempt at social inclusion, which became possible after the institution was included in the ‘Education for All – Fast Track Initiative’ Project. Inspired by the trainings that they attended, the educators from Oxentea decided to enroll Gabriel at the kindergarten. But this turned out to be a short-term venture. After a month and a half at the kindergarten the boy had to return home.
„Talking during the seminars is one thing and reality is another”, says Nadejda Burghila, an educator with 25 years of work experience. ”Gabriel is still very different from other children. He cannot walk alone, cannot perform activities in a group, he is slow. Besides, he needs a person to supervise him constantly and we don’t have such a specialist”.
Even though the kindergarten considers Gabriel’s case a failure, the boy’s mother takes a different view. Angela says that the progress made by her son during this period is huge. “He is more disciplined, he pays more attention, speaks more clearly and understands more. Most of all, he is happier – he made a lot of friends there that he talks about all the time”.
Now Gabriel can come back to the kindergarten only for occasional visits but each time his mother brings him is a special day for him. Gabriel does not understand the problems of adults; he knows only that at the kindergarten there are 40 children that treat him as their peer. Here, on the playground, he does not feel any different from the others.
Thousands of children in Moldova are in the same situation as Gabriel. As soon as they are diagnosed with “special needs” they are neglected by society and fall entirely within their parents’ responsibility. Most schools and kindergartens refuse to enroll them, even though international and national practice shows that social inclusion of these children is beneficial for everyone.
Poverty, worse than the illness...
“Look at these children”, says Svetlana Panori, another educator from Oxentea. “Many of them are 4-5 years old when they start to attend kindergarten and they don’t know even the most basic things. They don’t know the letters of the alphabet, they don’t know the days of the week, they can’t even count to ten. All these things we could teach them here, if we saw them more often”.
According to educators, the views of many parents have not changed since the Soviet era. They think that once children attend kindergartens and schools the parents’ role in their child’s education is over, especially when parents are also paying fees. When children come home from school, they are not asked what they did or what they learned, or what they have to prepare for the next day. “Some mothers bring their children to us only because they want to be able to work in peace at home. Right now, because it’s autumn and everyone is busy, our classes are full”, says Svetlana Panori.
Besides, the educators complain that they don’t have enough teaching materials and that it’s not clear what is expected of them. Some have heard of changes, of new teaching methods, but are still confused about what this means. “We are told that children should have more freedom but we don’t know how to understand this”, says Nadejda Burghila. That is why educators continue in many cases to keep the authoritarian approach and to ‘teach’ them in the ways that they are used to. So in the classroom the children are all lined up facing the teacher, despite repeated encouragement to make the atmosphere more informal and relaxed by rearranging the desks. “This way is simpler", she says. “They keep quiet…”.