November 2006, Jalalabad day-care centre offers new life for children with special needs and their parents
“Dear friends, we would like to thank you very much for taking care of our child! The day-care centre is a great opportunity for kids who are often isolated from their peers by staying at home missing out playing and communicating with other children, even their relatives,” began a letter sent to UNICEF from the parents of three-year-old Aiturgan Almazbek.
The letter continues: “It was like a miracle for us when we heard that a special kindergarten for disabled children was to be set up in Jalalabad. We couldn’t have even dreamt of this. It gives much-needed support to children and their parents who struggle to care for a child with special needs while working full-time at the same time.”
The day-care centre for children with special needs opened in 2006 in the southern Kyrgyzstan city of Jalalabad thanks to a close partnership between UNICEF, the central and local government authorities, NGOs and the community and families. UNICEF provided financial support to Save the Children (Denmark) for the renovation of the building, staff training and purchase of the necessary equipment. The local state administration has taken financial responsibility for all operational expenses including the provision of food for the children and staff salaries.
Aiturgan and her parents feel that 2006 marked a turning point in their lives. Aiturgan began attending the day-care centre allowing her mother, Mahabat Karaeva, resume lecturing in biology at Jalalabad State University where she is a professor. The family leaves home together in the morning and return in the evening full of the day’s stories to share with each other.
When first diagnosed with hydrocephalus, Aiturgan’s mother began to seek advice everywhere. She consulted many doctors on the condition and even visited local folk healers. Fortunate to have emotional and financial support from relatives and friends in Kyrgyzstan and abroad, the family managed to find funding from a charity overseas to cover the costs of an operation at a clinic in Germany.
The surgery successfully relieved the painful pressure in the child’s head and Aiturgan was given a new lease of life, however her problems are far from over since the operation as the condition is not curable and requires constant treatment and care.
This story challenges the whole social services system of the country. Few parents of children with special needs can find such help and support. The government-provided disability allowance cannot cover all the medical expenses plus ensure a decent standard of living for families affected. With few alternatives, parents often place their disabled children in special residential care institutions. The existing system leaves many families with little choice but to abandon their children.
UNICEF works to build partnerships to support alternative services such as the special day-care kindergarten for disabled children in Jalalabad. It also advocates strongly for the Government to urgently implement the Code of the Kyrgyz Republic on Children which foresees changes to the existing system of child protection through the introduction of alternative social services and making institutions an option of last resort for families and children in difficult circumstances. This code has been agreed by the Government and UNICEF hopes its implementation can begin in 2007.