Around the Globe with ChildFund in 31 Days: Belarus Youth with Disabilities Discover Their Voices

Reporting by ChildFund Belarus

31 in 31 logoOver the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. So whether you’re helping ChildFund build playgrounds in Afghanistan, provide drought aid in Kenya and Ethiopia or sponsoring a child in the United States, we hope you’ll make new discoveries about our work around the globe.

Kristina, 10, was born in Belarus with a congenital disability that required her to use a wheelchair since early childhood.

Because her wheelchair was not an active model, Kristina needed assistance everywhere she went. Her mom was usually the one pushing Kristina’s chair. But since her mom couldn’t be with her all day, Kristina’s participation in school activities was limited.

girl dancing in wheelchairMore than anything, Kristina wanted to take dance classes. Yet without a wheelchair that she could maneuver, that dream was out of reach. In fact, Belarus government safety regulations prohibited children under 14 from using active wheelchairs. The rule presented serious barriers for Kristina and 5,000 other teenagers using wheelchairs in Belarus. These young people could not fully participate in educational and cultural activities or sports. Being dependent on others to move them from place to place also had a negative impact on the children’s physical development.

In September 2010, ChildFund, which has worked in Belarus since 1993, helped organize a roundtable to address the inclusion of children with disabilities. The issues forum was one of several activities ChildFund was implementing through its USAID-funded Community Services to Vulnerable Groups project, with the aim of expanding participation of people with disabilities.

The unavailability of active wheelchairs for children quickly surfaced as a hot topic at the roundtable. Youth participants pointed out that in addition to the regulatory barrier, the only manufacturer of active wheelchairs in Belarus did not produce a model for children under age 14.

In the months following the roundtable, ChildFund continued to provide youth participants with advocacy training, helping them improve their leadership skills and knowledge of the issues that impact them. Armed with new tools and tactics, youth leaders, working with community members, began to advocate for changes in Belarus regulations that prohibited teenagers from using active wheelchairs. Ultimately, their advocacy work resulted in regulatory relaxation, clearing the way for the manufacturer to start production of active wheelchairs for children under 14.

In May 2011, Kristina got her first active wheelchair: “Now I am happy that I have independence,” she says. “I can meet with my friends and go to dancing classes without my mom. I am going to participate in the [International Paralympic Committee] Wheelchair Dance Sport competition next year. There are no more barriers to my sports career and my life!”

Discover more about ChildFund’s programs  in Belarus.

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