Today was an inspirational day, which started with a visit to the Qaradag region, in the town of Sahil, about a 45 minute drive from Baku. Here there is a school for children and adults living with disabilities. They have a wide variety of activities including physical therapy, speech therapy, art therapy and a sensory room. They don’t mix or define people by there ability and provide integrated services for people with CP, downs syndrome, and autism, among others. While there are a number of specialty schools, this is the only free program for people in the country. If there is enough money to pay the staff they accept it, if not they keep offering their skills just the same. The chair person, or executive director, and her staff have made many sacrifices in order to keep this program available to the people in need. Valida Abbasova, the executive director, has a son with a disability who has inspired her to do whatever is necessary to keep the program open and accessible. Her son, Mushviq, has a disability, resulting from a vaccine, but, despite the stereotypes, his family refused to believe there couldn’t be a decent life for him. His brother, Subuhi, is a big part of his life and came to the U.S. in October with ITD. Sabuhi, and many others at the facility are striving to change the stigma of a life lived with a disability in Azerbaijan. They are more than brothers, they are friends who go on regular outings together in a place where people living with disabilities often feel embarrassed to go out in public. After his experience in the U.S. Sabuhi has started a program that will do sports for the students in his school. It was especially nice to see the connection made between Valida, and our American colleague, Carrie McGee, who started “Whole Children,” a non-profit that offers a wide variety of additional services for those “of all abilities,” lacking services in the U.S. It doesn’t matter how far across the world you travel, the human situation is easy to relate to and the compassion shown in these situations is very moving.
After this visit we had a big afternoon ahead of us. It was the Azerbaijani Alumni action plan conference during which the 14 Azerbaijani contingents laid out what the U.S. component of the trip meant to them and where it had taken them since they had come back. All the presentations made were wonderful. Not only had the Azerbaijani group learned a lot from the U.S. portion of the trip but they had learned about each other and their desires to help the disabled community. Now, not only, are they are implementing their own action plans but they working together and helping each other to implement programs all over the country. In AccesSport we talk about “hope” often, and how you have to live your life filled with it. I left the conference today knowing that if they all work together they will certainly affect change to the idea of a life lived with a disability.