Sunday, December 16, 2012

New care approaches for children with disabilities

Ho Thi Lan learns new skills at a centre for children with disabilities.
© UNICEF Viet Nam\2012\Sandra Bisin
Eighteen year-old Ho Thi Lan is skillfully typing on the computer key board in the vocational training classroom of Hoa Vang’s brand new centre for children with disabilities.“I am not sure whether I prefer computer training or tailoring. I am getting a lot of new skills these days”, she says proudly. “I think I’d be happy to become a tailor. It would also please my parents.”

Stigma and discrimination 
Lan is a little over one metre high. She has a hunchback and has severe breathing problems, which means she has to be taken to hospital seven to eight times a year. Lan’s story today is a far cry from where she was only a year ago. “I was in school till grade 7, then the school principal advised my parents they could not keep me any longer, and my family had to have me stay home. I would help them in little things, but most of the time I did nothing and I was bored”, Lan recalls.

 “I also had no friends”, Lan continues. “It made me sad when neighbours and other students would point their finger at me, call me names because I looked different and start teasing me. It was very cruel. Now that I go to the centre, I have friends, I can communicate with people and I feel more confident.”

In another room of the centre, a non-formal education session is taking place. Six year-old Nguyen Thi Tuyet Nhi is sitting with her peers, drawing. “I am making a drawing of my mother because I love her very much”, she says. Nhi is intellectually disabled. She joined the centre over a year ago.
Hoa Vang’s brand new centre for children with disabilities.
© UNICEF Viet Nam\2012\Sandra Bisin

“Nhi has made a lot of progress in very little time”, advises her teacher, Le Thi Ngoc Thao. “Before coming to the centre, she was not able to eat or clean her hands on her own. She was also very shy. Now she can speak out loud during class, also raise her hand when I call her name. She sings a lot of songs and is happy to take part in dance performances with other children”

According to the Vietnamese government, there are at least 1.3 million children with disabilities in Viet Nam. “Children who live with a physical, sensory, intellectual or mental health disability are among the most stigmatized and excluded of all the world’s children”, says Le Hong Loan, Head of UNICEF Viet Nam’s child protection section. “Misunderstanding and fear of children with disabilities result in their marginalization within the family, community, at school, and in the wider society. The discrimination they suffer leads to poor health and education outcomes; affects the self-esteem and chances for participation and interaction with others; and puts them at higher risk for violence, abuse and exploitation”.

Children learn handicraft making at Hoa Vang’s centre for children with disabilities
© UNICEF Viet Nam\2012\Sandra Bisin

Modeling a new approach to alternative care
Hoa Vang’s centre for children with disabilities opened just a year ago. Through this centre and two other centres in Da Nang, UNICEF is modeling a new approach to alternative care for children with disabilities. Most of the children in the centre – a total of 60 - are children with severe disabilities who are unable to go to regular schools. At the centre, they are able to socialize, acquire new skills, attend non-formal education classes tailored to their needs, and receive basic rehabilitation services. They come to the centre during the day on week days and return home in the evening. This allows parents to continue engaging in income-generating activities and ensure a nurturing environment for their children at home.

This centre also contributes to the reduction of institutionalisation and enhances the inclusion of children with disabilities within communities. This community-based day care model will help inform the government’s policies and strategies to promote preventive and alternative solutions not only for children with disabilities but also for other groups of at risk children.

Construction of the centre was funded by the Ford Foundation and the US Fund for UNICEF, in particular the Patricia Lanza foundation. Philanthropist Patricia Lanza, a long-time supporter of the US Fund, contributed close to US$200,000 for the construction of the centre.

Six year-old Nguyen Thi Tuyet Nhi joined the centre a year ago
© UNICEF Viet Nam\2012\Sandra Bisin

Giving hope
“Before, I didn’t dare to answer when people were laughing at me, now I want to tell them: I am a valuable person, I can use a computer and I have friends. Don’t tease me any more, I have a future”, Lan says with a smile.

By Sandra Bisin

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