Invisible ones: Children with disabilities in North Kosovo
Children with disabilities and their families constantly experience barriers for inclusion in society.
It is still unknown exactly how many children with disabilities are living in north Kosovo. What we know there is 150 of them gathered around parents’ association “Podrzi me” from North Mitrovica. We do not usually encounter them on the streets, markets, playgrounds... If there were not an International day of persons with disabilities and occasional media awareness campaigns, they would be out of the public eye completely. This is, even more, the case during the times of the COVID19 outbreak.
Ivana Rakic, the president of the parents of children with disabilities association „Podrzi me “is fighting to change that.
"These children are invisible. No matter how much we talk about raising awareness, it is still not the case here. From my own experience, I can tell the hardest thing for me was to accept my child’s diagnosis. The second hardest thing for me was the environment. Whenever I was taking my child out for a walk, I could notice people oddly looking at her. Although parents pretend not to notice it, they notice everything, and it affects and hurts them”, she explained.
This, according to her, leads to parents shutting themselves off and avoiding being seen with their children in public, and Ivana considers it to be a huge mistake.
"Podrzi me" gathers 150 children with disabilities and their parents. They managed to gather a team consisted of educators, psychologists, and a speech therapist who would be at the service to the children and their parents.
Moreover, they are organizing educational lectures, creative workshops, children's performances, field trips. They are doing all of that in a rather small office, but soon they are getting keys to a new daycare center, which is going to be one of a kind in north Kosovo.
Children with disabilities and their families constantly experience barriers to the enjoyment of their basic human rights and their inclusion in society. Their abilities are overlooked, their capacities are underestimated, and their needs are given low priority. However, the barriers they face are more frequently related to the environment in which they live than a result of their impairment. The overall life situation of children with disabilities and special needs are further challenged by COVID 19 protection and prevention measures put in place.
Recognizing this problem, in order to increase the resilience of children with disabilities and their parents in the COVID19 outbreak situation UNICEF provided psychosocial support and online creative opportunities by supporting the association “Podrzi me”.
This project included regular communication with children with disabilities and their family members and the provision of psychosocial support based on each child's individual needs. The team consisted of Specialists/Psychologists who were available 24/7 using all means of communication to stay in constant contact with children and youth.
Ivana says she is proud UNICEF recognized their work and provided support, especially now during pandemics when children with disabilities are even more excluded than usual. Nevertheless, not all children had the opportunity to take part in these activities.
“We try to be in constant contact with parents and the activities that their children carry out, but I must say that not all of these 150 children are active in this project because some of them do not have the access to the internet, some of them do not even have mobile phones or computers so they could follow the activities”, she explained.
She hopes for the pandemic situation to be stabilized soon, so they could continue with their work regularly thus making it possible for all children to participate, but no less important to lift the weight out of parents shoulders who are currently bearing the burden of this project.
Ivana showed us their offices and children’s artworks. There we met Stefan (25) and his mother Svetlana alongside six-year-old girl Milica and her mother Lucija. They are part of the association since its founding in 2015, and Stefan and his mother shared with us their experience with online activities.
Stefan does not talk much, but with the help of his mother, they explained to us Stefan enjoyed the online activities he has been part of. Stefan did not have a phone or tablet, so he needed to wait for his mother to come back from work, so he could make video recordings of the tasks they finished. His mother said it was a bit tiring for her, but she recognized how happy her son was, and that was the most important for her.
Stefan proudly showed us some of the works he and his mother made since the COVID19 outbreak and explained to us how they did that.
While they were leaving, Svetlana left us with her grates concern and hope.
“While I am alive, he has nothing to worry about, I will always be there for him. But over so many nights one question kept me awake – Who will take care of him, once I am not there? I put all my hope in this daycare center. If we manage to find the equipment and to start working, even if I leave this world, I will not be worried because I’ll know he is in safe hands”.
UNICEF support for children with disabilities will continue and expand over the next five years with a sole purpose of enabling their full social inclusion in everyday life making it sure no child is left behind.