A small place that produces giant results for kids with disabilities in Kosovo

I walked into a very small place that produced giant results.

HandiKOS is an NGO (non-governmental organization) that helps the development and rehabilitation of children with specific disabilities. Moreover, this organization strongly advocates for the rights of these kids. Before the program was started, they were hidden and weren’t encouraged to attend school like any other child. Today we met three of these students along with the parents, teachers and physical therapists who are helping them.

These questions came to my mind (specifically for the parents):  What are the parents most proud of from enrolling their child in the program? What are the things their child enjoys doing the most?

While talking to them, they told me they had noticed immense leaps of improvement beyond their expectations.  They were very proud of the improvements resulting from the program.

HandiKOS entrance - by Rachel Lucas
HandiKOS entrance – by Rachel Lucas
Working on writing - by Rachel Lucas
Working on writing – by Rachel Lucas
DaShawn picture from HandiKOS - by Melita Kalbashi (Save the Children)
DaShawn picture from HandiKOS – by Melita Kalbashi (Save the Children)

The first child I met with had Down’s syndrome. Before coming to the program, he couldn’t talk and stood in one place without communicating. While attending the program, he began to enjoy singing and dancing, and he learned how to write.

The second child had severe autism and had trouble making friends, but he can now connect. Once he starts talking to someone, he becomes friends with them instantly and he is developing intellectually. His mom told us how much he loved his toy dinosaurs and how he wouldn’t even eat dinner without them.

The third child was three years old. Before starting the program, he could only sit up. During his time at HandiKOS, he was working on motor skills and was crawling and able to grasp toys. His mother said he liked to walk but still needed assistance.

The director of the program spoke about how if no one works on the muscles of these children while they’re young, they won’t be able to get around when they are older. I looked at this three-year-old who previously didn’t have basic motor skills and couldn’t pick up things, but with the support of Save the Children and HandiKOS he will be able to contribute. They have a gift somewhere; it is just about finding that gift and developing it.

Sue, Rachel and Jen playing - by Mary Ganska
Sue, Rachel and Jen playing – by Mary Ganska
Learning plan picture - by Rachel Lucas
Learning plan picture – by Rachel Lucas

Unfortunately, the kids only get to go to HandiKOS twice a week for an hour and a half each visit. Their time is divided between physical therapy and psychosocial therapy or non-formal education. The workers at HandiKOS, who have also received training from Save the Children, support the parents by teaching them the skills they need to continue supporting their children at home. I saw parents who were proud of their children and wouldn’t want to hide them, thanks to the help they’ve been given.

I’m so grateful to know that this isn’t the only center. Save the Children, through the support of the IKEA Foundation, works with eight of these centers throughout the country. More importantly, two of the children I met here are now enrolled in preschools. It just goes to show you can’t count anybody out. Just because they have a disability doesn’t mean they are without ability.

    Dashawn Clark