When Muqaddas*, a girl with an intellectual disability and behavioural difficulties began attending the Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) Centre in Harakat under the INCLUDE Project, it was her first step towards learning new skills and how to interact with other children.
In Tajikistan, children with disabilities are often excluded from schools and the community, and while the path towards inclusion is still paved with hindrances, it is slowly changing.
During the programme, Muqaddas occasionally showed behavioural problems, but the CBR centre staff, with the help of her mother, helped Muqaddas to improve. However, the behavioural issues would sometimes resurface, as she was still adapting to the new environment. But the CBR centre was resolute in helping her to integrate into the community and to ensure she receives an education.
When the time came, the CBR centre gave Muqaddas’ mother the information and support needed to help Muqaddas transition to a local mainstream primary school. But her mother was worried and doubted if her daughter could manage it: “I thought a lot about how she was going to listen to her teacher, if she was going to cope with her classmates… I was really worried.”
On the first day of school, one of the school transition coordinators from the CBR centre accompanied Muqaddas and her mother, to encourage and be there alongside them. The teacher started the first class with an introduction and an ice breaker. Every student was asked to say their names and recite a poem. Reciting poems is part of Tajik culture and is a skill learned from a very young age.
As the students began to stand and recite their poems, Muqaddas began acting up. The look of worry and despair could be seen on her mother’s face. She was beginning to think that this was not going to work out for her child. But suddenly, Muqaddas paused and began to watch how her classmates were praised by the teacher after they completed their poems. Unexpectedly, Muqaddas then said: “I want to recite a poem too.”
She recited a poem she had learned at the CBR centre. When she finished, the class clapped and cheered for her. The other parents in the class later spoke to Muqaddas’ mother, wanting to know where and how her daughter learned the poems. She responded simply and openly.
When asked about the experience, she said: “I was really happy to see that people did not notice just her disability, but they appreciated her ability.”
For a mother of a child with disabilities, overcoming the barriers to inclusivity takes a lot of courage. For Muqaddas’ mother, the support she received from the CBR centre made the difference. Today, Muqaddas is part of the community, together with other children from the school.