Today was a busy day as we visited 5 different programs! It is wonderful to see so many people trying to affect change for those in need. We started off at the “Fencing” Sport Club. Here, they are very passionate about fencing and have a woman who is ranked 29th in the world in wheelchair fencing. Unfortunately, there is a lack of accessibility in Azerbaijan and they have to carry her, in her wheelchair, up a flight of stairs into the club whenever she wants to train. She doesn’t let this stop her and continues to train really hard with the intention of someday going to the paralympics. Nubar Melikova is a psychologist who helps to run the adaptive fencing program. She will represent Azerbaijan in fencing when they host the European games in June. We wish her the best of luck!
The second visit was to a federally funded facility that provides social and professional rehabilitation for people living with disabilities between the ages of 16 and 35. This is a 6 month program that focuses on job skills such as painting, wood working, weaving, or computer skills. In addition there is also a large focus on paralympic sports such as rowing and bocce. After the 6 month program people leave with a certificate that will hopefully help them secure work. Most of the people coming to this program had never left their house before they started, due to shame stemming from the stigma of their disability. I experienced my most exciting moment today as I got to help a 28 year old man with spastic CP walk the length of the gym and back. We then stood for a large group picture, which wasn’t taken with my camera, so we will have to post it later! He had walked minimally before but never in this fashion, and just the fact that he was willing to try really impressed me. He joined the facility about 6 months ago and that was the first time he had ever left his house during his 28 years. He was thrilled to try the walking and I believe he left more confident, hoping to try it again soon! This is a wonderful program that provides people the opportunity to gain useful skills and become contributing members of society. Their artwork and athletic skills are really impressive!
The next stops were to the Duygu Social Rehabilitation Public Union and the Together and Healthy Public Union for Children with Autism. The social rehabilitation union focuses on computer skills, artwork, and social outings, such as the theater, for children living with any disability. They have also helped to find food and appliances for those families in need. It is the first organization that I have seen so far that looks for money from philanthropic individuals, they reach out to people on facebook! We got to meet the wonderful staff of the program who have been doing this positive work since 1990. They fed us so well we won’t have to eat for a week!
The Together and Healthy Public Union for Children with Autism is one of only 3 or 4 therapy programs for children living with autism in the country. There are not many doctors in the country that know how to diagnose autism and even if there is the diagnosis, there is a lack of help from the government because it is not defined as a disability by their standards. They are connected with Autism Speaks because the founders lived in the U.S. for a couple of years. They are using this resource to spread the word about autism and they also offer therapy sessions using applied behavioral analysis or ABA. The son of the founder is one of the only students in the country to be main steamed and have 1:1 help throughout they day, which is paid for out of pocket. Together and Healthy is setting the standard for those who have autism in Azerbaijan.
We finished the day up at the Ganclik Horse Farm where a hippotherapy program will soon be started. This is a very prestigious horse farm and they have sold horses to the royal family in England. Nazakat Zeynaili works at the 2 previously mentioned facilities and plans to take some of her students from there and start the hippotherapy program. The owners of the facility have given her the go ahead so it should be up and galloping soon!
Again, I am sorry I don’t have better pictures! The horses were amazingly well trained and I am sure my colleagues will pick up the slack for me on the picture front!