Article originally published by El Pais
Monica Piloya recalls every detail of the day a land mine changed her life.
“It was midday and I had just returned from the market. The rebels had attacked our village the night before. I walked away from the main road to allow a motorcyclist to pass and I stepped on a mine. In an instant, I was on the ground. These scars on my right hand were caused by the explosion and they had to amputate my leg. I tried to protect my son who was on my back but he died in hospital due to his injuries.”
In 2003, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony terrorized villages in Northern Uganda. LRA searched for children to recruit in their militias and young women to kidnap and rape as war trophies. Most of the mines and explosives that still reappear in rural areas can be traced back to those years.
“After three months in the hospital, my life became extremely difficult. I was a farmer, but without a leg, I could no longer work. I didn’t know how to deal with my disability. My husband left, leaving me alone,” remembers Piloya.
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.
On September 6, AVSI finalized a three-year project funded by the European Union in the Republic of the Congo. The project’s main goal was to train and facilitate the inclusion of young adults with disabilities in the labor market through the creation of cooperatives.
“Now I know who I am, a hairdresser. I’m self-sufficient and financially independent”. Elayne is 26 years old; she is deaf and lives in Pointe-Noire, the second largest city in the Republic of the Congo and the main commercial center of the country. In Pointe-Noire, 500 kilometers away from the capital Brazzaville, more than 7,000 young adults with disabilities live among a total population of 800,000 people. Most of them are completely excluded from the labor market and depend on friends and family support. This was Elayne’s life three years ago. She was then accepted in a project funded by the European Union and implemented by AVSI, whose main goal was to integrate young adults like her into the workforce through the creation of cooperatives.
After three years of taking professional courses, Elayne, with 177 other young adults with disabilities, is finally independent. She and her colleagues learned new skills and are now able to work in recently created cooperatives. This amazing outcome is a result of their strong determination and their integration in the project funded by the European Union to improve the social and economical conditions of people with disabilities in the region.
During the three-year project, these 177 young adults learned how to be tailors, carpenters, upholsterers, hairdressers as well as bakers and blacksmiths. AVSI followed them through their journey to become economical independent: from learning new skills to how to manage their recently created cooperatives, which represent the core of the project.
“Those who participated in the project were encouraged to work together in cooperatives, legally recognized by the Government in the Republic of Congo. This way it was easier to reintegrate these young adults in the workforce,” explained Caterina Cipriani, AVSI responsible in the Republic of the Congo.
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