|© UNICEF Russian Federation/ 2007/ Svirid|
|Yegenia Shirkina, 10, shows that her disability is no hindrance to her ability to take photos.|
By John Varoli
MOSCOW, Russian Federation, 7 September 2007 – With a growing economy, thanks in part to the country's abundant natural resources, Russia is fast becoming a place of opportunity. However, children with disabilities are still struggling to find a better place in society.
In response, UNICEF and its Russian partner, Perspectiva, are working to bring inclusive education for children with disabilities to the top of the social agenda.
UNICEF and Perspectiva recently organized a five-day photography workshop for 20 children with disabilities. Each disabled child was accompanied by a volunteer without disabilities. This was the fifth workshop of its kind organized by UNICEF in Russia over the last two years
Following a dream
The children took their cameras all across Moscow, immortalizing their view of the Russian capital. In preparation for this task, they spent two days studying the basic principles of photography under the close and attentive eye of UNICEF photographer Giacomo Pirozzi.
“It's always been my dream to learn photography. It's very interesting and maybe I'll become a photographer some day,” said 10-year-old Yevgenia Shirkina.
Yevgenia was born without arms and took her photos using her feet – a clear example that being disabled is not a hindrance to following one’s dream.
|© UNICEF Russian Federation/2007/ Svirid|
|Yevgeny Lapin poses with his best friend Misha after winning the award for best photo at the UNICEF photography workshop.|
This workshop was about more than just learning to use a camera; it was meant to raise awareness about the issues facing disabled youths in Russia. The children’s first photo assignment took them to an orphanage for young people with severe mental and physical disabilities.
The visit proved to be a powerful experience for all involved. Many were shaken by the level of despair and adversity faced by the children living in the orphanage.
“These children only exist, they just stare at the wall. It's such a sad and terrible picture,” said 12-year-old workshop participant Yevgeny Lapin, who has been paralysed since the age of 7 as a result of multiple sclerosis and currently uses a wheelchair.
Seeing the world through different lenses
On the last day of the workshop, the children voted on the photos and chose winners for several different categories.
“This workshop taught me to catch the moment,” said Yevgenia, who, along with her best friend Misha, won the award for best photo.
The cameras have been put away for now and the children have gone home, but the struggle to include disabled children in mainstream education moves forward. Some of the photographs will be part of a public exhibition to be presented by UNICEF and the local government of Moscow. The young photographers will be included as part of Moscow 's Year of the Child celebrations this month.
“I now see the world differently,” said Yevgeny.