Less children left behind in Albania: Eris’s little steps towards a more inclusive life

UNDP albania
Jun 11 · 5 min read
Eris at the Center

Eris is one among 24 children with disabilities who receive daily rehabilitation services at the Community Center of Shijak.

When he started frequenting the Center a year ago, Eris behaved aggressively and rejected teachers and his peers. He would be once rude, once moody, once bored, once irate, and angry. All he wanted was to be left alone.

Eris’s mother says: “At home, he used to hide under the kitchen table, roll over, refuse to do any homework. Often, he had explosive tantrums”.

Eris and his mother leaving the Center

Eris was diagnosed with intellectual disability and needed specialized treatment”. In absence of a rehabilitation facility treating such cases in Shijak, Eris’s parents had no other choice but take him to a private specialized center in Tirana,one hour away from home,once or twice a week. Financial costs became unbearable for the family.

Eris and his teacher

The opening of the Shijak Community Center came as big news.The Center, currently run by the municipality, provides services for children with special needs such as: development therapies, speech therapies, or psychological support. Children receive one or two therapies per day,45 minutes each, depending on the needs. Therapies are tailor-made for each and everyone of them. To provide an example, a child that receives speech therapy goes through various exercises, such as breathing, or facial rehabilitation therapies.

Children during therapies

Manjola Çeliku, one of the social workers at the center says:” After a year of intensive therapies Eris’ progress is obvious in all spheres of social behavior, independence, or psycho-motor development. We have helped him overcome ‘his refusing behavior’. He is more collaborative and social. Even improvements in the learning process are significant. We receive continuous positive feedback from his teachers”.

The center deploys a participatory approach bringing together parents and families of the children with special needs and teachers to play an active part in the overall progress of the child and create an enabling environment for social inclusion and integration of the children in the daily life.

Irina, Eris’ mother happily says:”The therapies he receives at the center have proven very beneficial to him. He is happier and gets along with his little brother and friends. He even loves to help me in the kitchen while I prepare his favorite cake.At the Center, we, the parents have been trained how to handle his needs at home. We feel blessed to have finally such a center in our community”, concludes Irina.

Since its establishment in March 2018, around 30 children with disabilities, aged between 3–12 years old, receive services in this center. There are about 50 children with disabilities in Shijak Municipality.

Playing and learning at the Center

This center is one among five community development centers where UNDP and the Municipalities work together to design new functioning models of community-based social services for persons with disabilities and other vulnerable population. Support includes refurbishment of the Centers as well as provision of capacity building for the professional staff.

According to a recent 2019 UNDP-commissioned study: ‘Needs Assessment for Social Services in the 12 Regions of Albania”, services for people with disabilities and disadvantaged persons account for 25% of overall social services. However, only 17% of people with disabilities have access to social services throughout the country.Such services are provided in 11 residential centers and 51 community/day care centers.

5 out of 51 community/daily centers have already been supported by UNDP which is currently up-scaling such support in six other municipalities across the country.

Eris at the center

In the framework of the Joint UN Programme “Leave no one Behind”, UNDP supports Albania’s efforts to expand and consolidate the safety net with more social care services for people in need, assist several municipalities to establish Local Social Plans as required by the Law on Social Care Services adopted in 2016. Such Local Plans are instruments intended to guide municipalities and other decentralized government institutions to address the needs of vulnerable groups and advance their inclusion in the social economic life of the community. The establishment of community development centers for children with disabilities is among the priority actions outlined in the Local Social Plans.

Eris’s mother says:” Teaching him how to adapt to the world is ongoing. Life gets more complicated and I need to show him this. But I feel I am better prepared to handle all of this”.

“Leave No One Behind’ program is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and implemented by UNDP, in partnership with the Albanian Government and UNIICEF,UNFPA,UN Women.

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