After months of meetings with local government authorities and other key parties, as well as planning, moving, and training, the day finally arrived - we opened our new office in Isfara, a town of 38,000 in a remote northeastern part of Tajikistan near the Kyrgyzstan border. Since then, our staff in Isfara have been developing relationships with members of the community who have extended them a warm welcome.
From our meetings with various authorities we had a list of children with visual impairments, and knew there were children with other disabilities out there. No one, however, could provide us with a list of these children. As we were sitting in our newly remodeled early intervention room discussing this issue with staff from the local blind society, there was a knock on the door and three women from the Home Social Assistance unit walked in. Having heard we were open, they wanted to know if they could send children with disabilities from their designated neighborhoods to us. It was the piece of the puzzle we had been missing! Traditionally, in Tajikistan, this unit has focused on helping the elderly with shopping and cleaning tasks. When we had inquired about existing services for children with disabilities before moving to Isfara, no one had mentioned them.
These women then devoted a whole day to taking us on a whirlwind tour of home visits to meet children with disabilities and their families. Our list of families who could benefit from rehabilitation services quickly expanded.
We are now running two early intervention groups—one for children with general disabilities and one for children with visual impairments. The rapid development of some of the children has been astounding, and since our opening day, the number of children in our groups has tripled.
At the same time, the local Home Social Assistance unit has become one of our strongest partners; not only do they bring children to us, they also want to learn about how they can directly support the families. This month we will begin weekly training sessions to give them the rehabilitation and psycho-social support skills they need. In turn, they will be able to reach and assist many more families, including those living in outlying, more remote villages.
We are excited to see children living with disability in this region learn, grow, and develop. And hopefully one day, they will transition into mainstream schools!