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Goodwill Ambassador Maria Guleghina presents at Junior Eurovision, tours health centres

In Minsk, facilities catering to adolescents and special needs children making an impact

© UNICEF Belarus/2010/Konotop
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Maria Guleghina visits the Youth Friendly Health Centre (YFHC) “Doverije” (“Trust”) – Minsk, Belarus. The Center opened in 2003 and caters to the special needs of adolescents aged 10-19.

By Alexandra Westerbeek

MINSK, Belarus, 23 November 2010 - World famous soprano and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Maria Guleghina, recently journeyed to Minsk, located in the Republic of Belarus, to present UNICEF awards to this year’s participants of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest (JESC). In addition, the opera singer toured several local health facilities catering to adolescents and special needs children.

The right to be heard

Organized by the European Broadcasting Union and Belteleradiocompany, this year’s JESC is being lent additional support by UNICEF. This unique partnership perfectly fits the spirit of the event, which promotes positive social interaction and a free exchange of views and opportunities for all children.

The focus this year is on children with special needs.

Commenting on the bravery and strength of their performances, Ms. Guleghina stated, “It is wonderful to see how these children have developed their skills and talents. All children, whatever their physical or mental restriction, have the right to participate and to be heard.”

Sitting in on the rehearsal with the Goodwill Ambassador was none other than the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, who met with the participating teams of children and spoke with the melodious Guleghina about her recent visit to an Early Development Education and Rehabilitation Centre for children with special needs.

Showing clear results

“It was wonderful to see how teachers, specialists, parents and children with special needs work together in this centre. You can see that the children feel free, trusted and loved and that the integrated approach to education and health care is really showing clear results,” said Guleghina effusively.

During her visit to the Rehabilitation Centre, the singer was introduced to Yana, a deaf child whose young life was turned around by the UNICEF supported facility, when she was provided a hearing aid at the age of three.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-0101/Susan Markisz
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Maria Guleghina, at UNICEF House.A celebrated and acclaimed soprano, Ms. Guleghina has also worked for 16 years on behalf of children.

Yana’s mother explains, “A whole new world opened up to her. The problem we face now is that our little girl has been hearing impaired for so many years that she has not developed in the same way as a healthy child of her age.”

The future, in fact, is actually quite bright for little Yana. Through repeated developmental exercises, doctors at the Centre expect her to be all caught up by the time she reaches her fifth birthday. “At that point, she should be able to join a non-specialized school,” chimed her mother happily.

Peer education effective

Throughout Belarus there are 143 centres established for children with special needs. With UNICEF support, specialists are trained and able to provide methodological assistance to other centres throughout the country.

One such centre is “Doverije” or “Trust” Youth Friendly Health Centre, which the golden throated Guleghina also managed to fit in to her decidedly busy schedule.

During her tour of the institution, the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador witnessed a peer educator training, in which approximately fifteen young people from various schools in the area gathered to work on exercises which primarily focused on “emotions” and “communication”. The group was monitored by second year social study students from the nearby university. 

Peer education is greatly effective in the prevention of HIV, STI, alcohol, smoking and drug abuse among adolescents. Presently this youth-friendly health centre in Minsk services fifteen schools and has twenty established peer education groups.

Communication is key

Maria Guleghina spoke from her heart to the ‘peer educators’ in training about the importance of dialogue and trust:

“From my experience with my own children, especially now with my ten year old son, I would like to share with you that honest communication and trust between you and your parents is very important. I know this is difficult – especially at your age, but believe me, later you and your parents will be grateful.”



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