Vinnytsya Becomes More Child-Friendly
“It feels great to be a part of the group” – Sasha, 13 years
This year Oleksandra (Sasha) Berehuta, 13, finally went to school for the first time. “Went to school” literally. For the past four years Sasha has been studying at home, and her communication with children of her age was limited: the girl is wheelchair-bound, while school buildings were not fit for students like Sasha - children with disabilities.
“I’ve been using a wheelchair since early childhood, but it wasn’t until the time to go to school that I realized: I won’t be able studying in the classroom, at school with other kids”, the girl explains. “Of course, I am very grateful to my first teacher, who gave me very good basic education to continue my learning, but I wanted to study with other children”.
Until recently the girl’s days were dull and boring as she lacked normal communication with peers. It was particularly painful for Sasha to hear different exciting stories of the school life from her best friend Nastya, as the girl felt trapped outside these interesting events and adventures.
And finally Sasha’s dream came true: on September 1st she went to school. Last summer the Vinnytsya school #33 has been adapted to the needs of children with disabilities: they have built a wheelchair ramp and adequately modified a street-level classroom and a bathroom.
These and some other improvements became possible thanks to UNICEF’s Child Friendly Cities Initiative (CFC). In partnership with local non-governmental organizations and municipalities, UNICEF contributes to changes that make children’s lives in the cities more comfortable and safe, including lives of kids with special needs. Partial or full integration of children with special needs in educational establishments, as well as introduction of inclusive education are key areas of ensuring right of these children to quality and accessible education.
13-year-old Sasha is genuinely happy with changes occurring in her life: “You cannot even imagine how happy I am! I finally got an opportunity to meet my classmates, to study with them, to communicate, and sometimes even to let them copy off of me. It is so delightful to be a part of the group. In other words, I started a new life as I became more independent: I can freely move around the school’s ground floor and eat in the cafeteria. When we have outdoor Health and Safety lessons, we all go to the stadium, and my classmates help me. Sometimes they ask me to help with homework, and I am always there for them”.
School education for most students is something ordinary and mundane, but not for Sasha. She gets actively involved in her school’s public activities. The girl is a member of children’s advisory board at the Vinnytsya city council, where she raises various issues that concern her, her friends and other children with special needs; she also attends hobby groups in the local palace for children and youth. And finally, Sasha received an opportunity to attend professional swimming practices.
During 2011 two projects – “Studying on equal terms” and “Offer a hand to your classmate” – have reached more than 100 of 226 children who study at home in Vinnytsya, and integrated them in educational and pedagogical processes. Monitoring, conducted in October 2012, also demonstrates that during the academic year of 2012-2013 similar numbers of children partially attend classes and/or extracurricular activities in schools of general education. During 2012 more than 20 children with special needs participated in various hobby groups and circles, organized at the Vinnytsya city palace for children and youth.
Eight educational establishments in the city of Vinnytsya are now equipped with wheelchair ramps; two schools have modified street-level classrooms and toilet facilities to ensure free and easy access of children with disabilities to these premises. Special trainings are organized for teachers, parents and students with the goal to create favourable school climate for children with special needs.
“There is nothing impossible! Do not stop; do not lock yourself up at home with your problems, but move forward! There are many caring people around you who are ready to help and make our city more friendly to all children”, assures young Oleksandra Berehuta, young Vinnytsya resident. She hopes that opportunities that emerged in her hometown will be made available to other children in all settlements of Ukraine.
Activities within the framework of CFC Initiative represent practical implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child at the municipal level under the leadership of local governments and with involvement of children themselves. Nonetheless, the government alone cannot build a child friendly city. Therefore, it requires partnership and cooperation with children, their parents and all those responsible for children’s fate and future. To date 17 Ukrainian cities have joined the Child Friendly Cities Initiative.
Globally there are close to 900 municipalities striving to become child-friendly. Child friendly cities are being built in 11 countries of Africa, 11 countries in Americas, 11 Asian nations, in 23 European states, and in 3 countries of Oceania. CFC Initiative is the most widespread in Europe, particularly in France (134 cities), Italy (111 cities), and Spain (49 cities).