Creating a New Future: Daycare for Children with Disabilities Opens in Borjomi

With only 40 daycares throughout the country and most of them located in urban areas, children are often left to fend for themselves.

By Inge Snip for UNICEF Georgia
Karina, 10, hugging her mother Gaiane
UNICEF/Geo-2018/Khetaguri

04 September 2018

February 2018    

With care and precision, Karina slowly moves the colorful rubber puzzle on the table to her 14-year-old friend Mariam, after the teachers leave the room. She confidently points at the blue squared piece. “What is this?” she asks her friend, “and this?” she repeats with the yellow circle, “and this?” while pointing at a purple rectangle. “Very good,” she says proudly after her friend identifies all correctly. 

Short for her age, but always smiling, 10-year-old Karina has Down syndrome. Her friend Mariam has brain damage. The girls sit at a white table in a serene, recently renovated, activity room filled with children’s books, toys, and puzzles. It's their favorite place to go, the newly opened daycare center for children with disabilities in Borjomi. 


And places like these are scarce for children with disabilities in Georgia. With only 40 daycares throughout the country and most of them located in urban areas, children like Karina are often left to fend for themselves. 

I Fought very hard for my daughter, I gave up my own life to give her a meaningful life

Gaiane

“I fought very hard for my daughter, I gave up my own life to give her a meaningful one,” says Karina’s mother, Gaiane Dalibandian. Gaiane completely re-schooled herself and is now an assistant teacher at the daycare, which opened its doors in December 2017 with the technical support of UNICEF, the McLain association for Children, and with a financial contribution by the Bulgarian Development Aid. The local Government also took an active part into the process.

UNICEF renovated and fully equipped the building to create a friendly environment for learning, development and fun; trained professionals from different fields to improve their skills and ensure that every child will receive the individualized care s/he needs to reach his/her full potential.


Children with disabilities are one of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in Georgia. Not only are they discriminated on a daily basis because of a persistent stigma and inadequate policies and legislation, but they also lack access to proper support services such as daycares, home cares, and early intervention services.  Statistics on children with disabilities are also incomplete, and many of these children remain invisible to the system. 

Children in the Daycare Center for Children with Disabilities Opens in Borjomi
UNICEF/Geo-2018/Khetaguri
Children in the Daycare Center for Children with Disabilities Opens in Borjomi
UNICEF/Geo-2018/Khetaguri

“The hospital told me when my daughter was born that I didn’t have to take her home, and all my relatives, friends, and neighbors told me to give her up,” Gaiane tells us. Karina’s newly found friend Mariam - who was born with extensive brain damage - has also faced difficulties, her mother says, especially to have meaningful learning possibilities.


“Mariam has troubles reading words and sentences, she can read the letters, but gets stuck putting them together as words,” Tea Zurgashvili says about her daughter’s development issues, “but some teachers at school think that, because of that, she won’t be able to do any homework and they stopped asking her questions in class.” And like any typical teenager, Mariam told her mom that if no one asks her questions in class, why should she do homework at all.

10-year-old Karina sitting with her Mother, Gaiane as she tells us their story
UNICEF/Geo-2018/Khetaguri
10-year-old Karina sitting with her Mother, Gaiane as she tells us their story

But times are changing. Especially for the 10-year-old Karina and 12-year-old Mariam in Borjomi. 


Laughs and squeaks come from the hallway. Karina, Mariam and their friends run through the hall for their afternoon snack. They are going to make a cake together, after having drawn colorful letters and flowers on origami paper, and they just can’t wait.


Up to 30 children with disabilities can enjoy the several different activity rooms, develop themselves and have fun after school hours.  Nana Lomadze, head of the board of Together for Real Changes, an NGO advocating for people with disabilities, tells us proudly that after the daycare opened, several different new faces showed up, children they had not known about previously. 

“When I realized there was nothing for children with disabilities in the entire Borjomi region, I knew I had to do something,” Nana says in her office at the center. The Tbilisi-based mother of a 25-year-old son with severe muscular dystrophy knows all too well the struggles parents of children with disabilities have to go through. 


“We worked hard with the entire community to make this happen, from parents to the local government, to the school, medical centers, media,” Nana explains, adding that the center covers over 13 villages in the Borjomi area, quite a logistical challenge.  

Child in the Daycare Center for Children with Disabilities
UNICEF/Geo-2018/Khetaguri

Even though the center has only been open since December, it has already given ten-year-old Karina something much more valuable than anything else: confidence. Karina used to be shy at school, not talking to her classmates and clinging to her mother and the special teacher. But now, in the two hours she spends at school before she goes to the daycare, she’s started to make friends with her classmates. 


For 12-year-old Mariam, the center has been a breath of fresh air as well. “I like learning,” the confident teenager tells us, while she is jotting down Georgian letters on colorful papers. Her mother immediately adds that it has been a long time since she’s seen her daughter push herself so hard, studying. And that has also had a positive effect on Mariam’s attitude towards her school work as well.


Faintly, the Puerto Rican smash hit Despacito starts filling the theatre room. It’s Karina’s cue. With flair and determination, she steals everyone’s hearts with her own, choreographed dance during the recital of Little Red Riding Hood. When asked afterward what she wants to be when she grows up, she says without hesitation: “I want to be a dancer!”