An AVSI partner since 2002, MASP is training 50 adolescents in skills such as baking, sewing, felting and woodworking, while parents attend seminars on inclusion and awareness
FUNDED BY THE DOROTHEA HAUS ROSS FOUNDATION, THE OCCUPATIONAL TRAINING PROGRAM AIMS TO DEMONSTRATE THAT YOUNG PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES CAN LEARN SKILLS TO INCREASE INDEPENDENCE AND SOCIAL INCLUSION.
Karina is 16 years old. She is blind and has never had the chance to go to school. When she was 6, her mother was told Karina was hyperactive and could not attend school with the other children. She was told her daughter would outgrow it and should come back when she was 11. By that time, Karina had missed so much that the school would not admit her because she could not keep up with the others. So Karina’s mother did her best to teach her at home, where her only opportunity to socialize was with her twin sister Sabina and other family members. She had no friends.
Her glum routine changed when Karina joined the Occupational Training program for adolescents with disabilities at Mezhdunarodnaja Associacija Socialnykh Proektov (The International Association for Social Projects), or MASP. MASP is a long-term partner of AVSI-USA that offers education, rehabilitation, and employment services for marginalized children and young people in Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city. Now, every Thursday morning, Karina wakes up very early, has breakfast and eagerly awaits the taxi that will take her to MASP. Once there, she learns how to work with wool and felt, and she designs bracelets and beads.
“I made many friends here,” says Karina, who likes to sing to her friends during the breaks, accompanied by a portable radio that she carries with her all the time. “When I joined the felting course, I understood that I wasn’t alone, that there are other girls who have the same problems I have. My new friends support me during the classes and we talk on the phone every evening.”
Funded by the Dorothea Haus Ross Foundation, a grantmaker dedicated to funding the world’s most vulnerable children, the Occupational Training program aims to demonstrate that young people with disabilities can learn skills to increase independence and social inclusion. Between October 2016 and September 2017, 50 adolescents with disabilities will be trained in skills such as baking, sewing, woodworking, and felting, while 160 parents will attend seminars on inclusion awareness and advocacy. The project results will be shared with 150 stakeholders, including government and civil society leaders.
The young people in the program have various physical and intellectual disabilities including vision impairment, Down Syndrome and Autism, and other neurological conditions, which often have not been diagnosed precisely. One of the project’s goals is to increase the social integration of these adolescents in Kazakhstan, a country that is still struggling to shed Soviet-era attitudes about the ability of people with disabilities to function in society.
“All the young people are enthusiastic about studying in the vocational courses and to participate in the project,” celebrates Silvia Galbiati, Director of MASP. “They have never had the opportunity to study outside their homes and boarding schools before. They didn’t have friends and couldn’t socialize. Thanks to this project, they met new people and have become more organized, independent and positive. Some of them have started to make plans to study further or to work in these sectors.”
Aruzhan, a 16 year old girl with cerebral palsy, is among the adolescents who are now, thanks to MASP, beginning to make plans for the future.
“I want to be a seamstress,” says Aruzhan, who lives with her single mother and a brother in a single dorm room. “I like sewing very much. I want to sew handicrafts and clothes.”
When Aruzhan was born, the doctors said she would never walk, but her mother never gave up. She learned how to massage her daughter’s legs and body and now Aruzhan is able to walk.
“Since Aruzhan has been involved in the project, she has changed a lot,” says her mother. “I can see a smile on her face. I am so grateful to all the sponsors for implementing this project. It brings a lot of support to disabled children and their mothers.’’