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Day Centre is home of happiness and hope for Gardabani youngsters

© UNICEF/Geo-2011/Bedianashvili
Children in the UNICEF supported centre for disabled children in Gardabani, Georgia. April, 2011

By Alastair Watt

GARDABANI, Georgia, April 2011 - Each child here is living with an intellectual disability. Significantly, each youngster is also living with a smile on his or her face as they play in their newly built playground at the Gardabani day centre.

Outdoor conditions may be slightly windy and cold for late April but it would need a brave soul to tell these kids they can’t play outside. There was a time when they could only dream of having friends. Further still, a chance to play and have fun, something all children crave, was a mere fantasy. 

Boisterous 9-year old Salome had never had such an opportunity before the centre opened and confidently proclaimed: ’I like it here and love coming here. Everyone here is my friend.’

Her vibrant mood is mirrored across a room of her friends ranging from 4 to 18 years old. The widespread happiness is striking especially when you consider what life can be like for those with special needs in countries and countries in transition.

Inadequate schooling and old-fashioned public perceptions can be equally daunting obstacles for children with disabilities. People with disabilities are not adequately respected that can lead families to be reluctant to take their kids out of the house.

It was only after a needs assessment carried out by the Municipality and the NGO ‘Disabled Child and the Society Association’ that the extent of the neglect became clear.
Children with disabilities were not being enrolled in kindergartens or schools and the need for a community-based service was desperate.

However, 30km from Tbilisi UNICEF is helping to provide a more hopeful future. 

The establishment, furnishing and running of the centre is part of UNICEF’s commitment to providing multi-functional centres in the Kvemo Kartli region of Georgia.
From September 2010, the centre has provided psychological rehabilitation, special education, occupational, art and music therapy as well as recreational activities. Opportunities for interaction have suddenly blossomed for these children. Previously, they were isolated and excluded.

© UNICEF/Geo-2011/Bedianashvili

Education is seen as a priority as is mixing with local school children. A third of the centre’s children are attending the nearby school as a result.

Now that this need is being met, the work of the centre’s dedicated staff is already showing clear signs of achievement.

Social worker Marina Marghishvili emphasised that patience and positivity are key to building the child’s self belief: ‘It takes a long time to make progress. But we must focus on what the children can do. If the child sees himself or herself as being disabled, their morale will be damaged.”

As well as this ‘can do’ spirit, parental involvement is paramount to the success of their work at the centre and Marina is driven towards the children’s development and lasting improvements in their lives.#

‘It’s crucial that the parents are closely involved. For them, they have to build trust in our staff at the centre and understand the benefits of what they do here. The parents can then try to enhance their child’s development at home.’

The centre’s co-ordinator, the spritely Nino Maruashvili was buoyant about what the children have done in the centre in only a few months.

‘We’ve arranged theatre visits, trips to parks and put on four performances for special holidays such as Easter. They are very active. Also, half of our children are from ethnic minorities so it’s a very inclusive place.’

Having previously experienced a very excluded life, many of the children were very uncomfortable expressing themselves. Bit by bit, the centre is helping to transform their self-confidence.

Speech therapist Natia Chanturia was carefully setting her next session with 15-year old Tabula, a bright and charming girl, who she named as a notable success story.

‘When she first came she had difficulty making sounds as she had difficulty breathing at the same time. Using games and visual aids, we have managed to slowly bring this under control and now she can say many words.’

Natia’s pride was abundantly clear regarding the development of her pupils. However It is important that this progress continues. Earlier that morning the bus transporting the children to the centre had broken down but nothing prevents them from attending their beloved centre.

13-year old Enola laughed ‘I always want to come here. If I can’t I make a big protest’. Her attitude was a glowing reflection of what this centre means to its guests. This place and its loving people allow the children to flourish and explore their potential. With continued support, they can be given genuine hope of a better life.



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