A warm place for special children in Kyrgyzstan
By Theresa Waldrop
Elena Domashova is thrilled that when winter arrives in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, this year, she will have a warm place to live after Habitat for Humanity helped replace the 55-year-old windows and doors on her family’s house a few months ago.
But Elena seems even more excited about the fact that her friends will have a warm place to work and play. Elena, 22, is mentally retarded, and for the past five years, her home has served as a therapy, play and support center for special-needs children and their families after Elena’s mother, Svetlana, founded a self-help group she named “Renew.”
“My friends will have good conditions,” Elena said, smiling a shy and gentle smile. “In the winter it was very cold, and we had to cover the doors with blankets.” The windows were cracked and broken in places, and the old doors in the house were no match for the bitter cold of winters in Bishkek, where the average January temperature is 24.8 degrees Fahrenheit (-4 degrees Celsius).
Elena’s family was helped through a project that Habitat for Humanity Kyrgyzstan is carrying out with partners to improve the lives of mentally disabled people and their families. Families not only have the chance to improve their living conditions, they are also provided medical, sociological and psychological care at home. The aim is to reduce the risk of institutionalization of mentally ill people and eradicate the stigma that surrounds these diseases and the social isolation that often accompanies it.
Svetlana, a retired physical education teacher, and her husband, Anatoly, a retired military officer, have the same goals. “Some people thought I should put my girl away in an institution,” Svetlana said. “In society, there’s a stigma around mental illness. People don’t understand the kids. We would like to show society what our kids can do.”
The family has transformed one of the house’s three rooms into a therapy room, where the kids can do arts and crafts projects. There are games, books and puzzles arranged neatly on shelves, and art works are everywhere. There are worktables down the middle of the room, and a stunning, colorful papier-mâché lady goat adorns one end.
For now, the new doors and windows are keeping out noise and dust, Svetlana said. But, she adds, “The most important thing is that we have a good and positive mood that affects our physical and psychological wellbeing.” Habitat has “made a great job by helping us,” she said. “We had no other opportunity for these kinds of changes.”
What is next?
Habitat wants people not only to read about poverty housing but do something to fight it. You can support Habitat’s work in Europe and Central Asia in a number of ways. Here are some examples:
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