The cooperation between the EU and the Eastern Partnership states is founded on the promotion of European values. The removal of barriers and the social empowerment of individuals in difficult situations are the areas where Poland supports its Eastern partners by running exchange and integration programmes as well as providing special workplaces. Many of the projects are aimed to prevent social exclusion of disabled people.
Being part of society since childhood
Disabled children are one of the most vulnerable groups supported by Polish integration programmes. The aid from Poland improves their lives in Belarus and Georgia. According to the Georgian Ministry of Health, there are 10052 disabled children in the country, about 1200 of whom are seriously disabled*. The ones with mild and moderate disabilities can attend rehabilitation sessions in numerous day care centres. Seriously disabled children find it much more difficult to manage, as only one facility has been set up for them in Georgia and it can only take 56 children at a time.
Polish aid has been delivered for many years to cater for the children’s needs at the Rehabilitation and Treatment Centre in Tbilisi, run by the Camillians. This year, a day care unit will be opened for the small patients in the worst condition. Additionally, family rooms will be prepared to provide rehabilitation to children from remote towns and villages. Children will now be able to start their treatment during their stays at rehabilitation centres. Interdisciplinary therapy under professional supervision will give them more independence, enable them to take more active part in the social life and take some burden off their relatives’ shoulders. By providing eight hours of child care per day, the establishment offers the parents time to relax or take up a job, which translates into the family’s quality of life. With similar goals in mind, another three treatment centres for disabled children are being developed: in Tbilisi, Kareli and a newly opened one in Kizilajlo. Once the renovation and maintenance works are over, several dozens of little patients will find relief in these places.
Socially useful works
Working for a wage can also effectively contribute to integration of adults. Therefore, in Georgia, in the Therapy House located at the main street leading into Signagi, one of Georgia’s tourist attractions, a café will be launched with the help from Poland. The café will be staffed by disabled people who will thus be given the chance to earn their living. Under this project, they will also be able to attend trainings on the rights of disabled people, social and psychological workshops and professional workshops on business management. Besides Polish aid, the renovation and equipment of the building was also supported by the International Women Association and American marines association as well as the Bank of Georgia. The sponsors will contribute for example to building a tone oven (to bake traditional Georgian bread). Local entrepreneurs will deliver the flour. The owner of one of restaurants in Tbilisi offered to give the future staff professional bread baking training for free. The city authorities also joined the project by covering the power and water bills and other similar expenses. The income from the café will keep it going in the following seasons.
Similarly, the purpose of one of the Polish aid projects in Belarus is social adaptation through the labour market. The country’s well-developed system of special schools aims to prepare its pupils for an independent life. However, once the graduates complete their education, their fitting into the new life remains a problem. About half of them manage to live on their own but others struggle to pull themselves together in an environment often so different from the school one. The situation is all the more difficult as Belarus has not yet developed measures to protect the disabled people in the labour market. Thanks to the Polish Aid, a training and production facility is being formed at the special boarding school in Molotkovichi. Local girls will learn to make shoes and the boys – furniture. They will learn and work in a sheltered workshop, which may stimulate the state system to develop in a new direction, particularly with the long-term goal in mind, which is setting this facility as an example of special education in Belarus.
Despite the fact that some of the projects implemented in the partner states are very rudimentary and still require taking a lot of actions, even at this stage they make a lot of difference in the lives of the beneficiaries. One of such initiatives is setting up an assistance system for the deafblind in Georgia, which has been virtually non-existent in this country. It is estimated that about 13,000 blind people live in Georgia, and three times as many visually impaired people. They remain on the edge of society, often isolated by their own families. They are the most abandoned and deprived of any help group of disabled people.
In order to empower them, Polish MFA will support the creation and promotion of a Georgian version of the LORMA tactile sign language. There are plans to hold trainings for specialists working with people with hearing and sight impairments as well as campaigns to increase the public administration, the NGOs and the society’s awareness of the deafblind people’s problems. The proposed system of trainings for the assistants of the disabled people will help the latter to become part of the social life. They will have their dedicated support clubs and help from prepared volunteers.
The efforts of the Polish embassy in Minsk led to the reopening of a stable at the Ogiński Museum in Zalesye that fills the gap in the rehabilitation offer in the area. Hippotherapy is one of the most popular rehabilitation methods worldwide for disabled children. It has proved effective for children with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism, scoliosis, and even for amputees, the blind, the deaf and children with birth defects. In the Smarhon’ district, with nearly 3,000 registered disabled people, this kind of therapy has been unavailable so far. Thanks to this investment, it is estimated that up to 500 children per year will use the hippotherapy in Zalesye. Moreover, reopening the stable might increase tourism and employment in the area. The Ogiński Museum is a new attraction, one of a few in the region, which still calls for new ideas to keep developing. The equipment purchased as part of the project will make the museum’s offer more attractive and become an extra item on the tourists’ itinerary.
Poland.pl *as of 2016