Today we visited the city of Gjakova, about 1.5 hours’ drive south-west of Pristina. In Gjakova we visited a preschool class, a pre-primary class (ages five and six) and a rehabilitation centre for children with disabilities. The organisation Handikos supports children and adults with disabilities by providing orthopedic equipment, physiotherapists, field visits to advise and assess needs, and cooperating with government agencies to change laws. They have a large focus on integrating children with disabilities by way of teacher training, parental education, individual sessions with the children and supporting the children when they’re in regular classrooms. Prior to Handikos and Save the Children being involved in the community, there was a belief that children with disabilities could not function or have the right to be in regular classrooms, but opinions are changing drastically now.
While we were at the Handikos rehabilitation centre, we visited with Alba, a five-year-old girl with autism who has been attending the centre since age two. Alba receives individual support based upon objective-based recommendations two mornings per week and then is taken across the street to the preschool to join her friends. In the centre, teachers and therapists assess children every six months and revise their individual goals based upon current abilities, needs and successes.
We had the opportunity to see Alba again when she had returned to her integrated classroom and the children played the game of musical chairs. Games play an important role in teaching socialisation and turn-taking. Despite Alba’s limited verbal ability, she clearly has friends in the integrated class. A young boy gave his seat to Alba in order to keep her in the game for a longer time.
We also met with a young girl named Arbnora who had significant physical limitations. When she came to Handikos she was unable to open her hands, but with physiotherapy she was happy to help me draw and enjoyed turning the pages of the book we brought from Canada.
We have been incredibly moved and feel fortunate to visit with the educators, Save the Children hosts and their partners (Handikos, Putevima Sunca & Iniciativa 6). It is very evident that everyone involved has a high level of commitment to successfully changing the ideas around inclusivity in Kosovo, whether it is inclusion of ethnic minorities or children with disabilities.