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My home will not be my fortress

“It is the unaccommodating environment that disables a person’s life, rather than the physical impairment”.
The International Disability Rights Monitor


Nikoleta and Theodor in her bedroom.



Narrow door in Nikoleta’s apartment in Silven, Bulgaria.

Everybody knows that children need space for moving around and playing. Even more so when they have physical disabilities, as such children want to play like everyone else, even when they have to move in a wheelchair. However, for many physically challenged children in Eastern Europe this is only a dream. Just venturing out of the room and discovering the rest of the apartment is an event for them. Not so much because of the illnesses, rather because stairs, narrow entrances and doors create barriers to the outside world.

In Bulgaria, impaired individuals constitute more than 10 percent of the population, the bigger part are children. They are not easily spotted on the streets, as many are stuck in their “fortress homes”. Assistance is required to go out; stairs, elevators or building entrances are not adjusted to special needs. Moreover, they are not free even in their homes, as those are equally bad suited. They cannot use bathrooms without help; corridors and doors are too narrow for wheelchairs. Leaving such homes is not an option, since better places rarely exist.

Nikoleta, a single mother with a 13-year-old son, Theodor, born with cerebral palsy, knows this harsh reality from her own experience. In their apartment complex in Sliven, eastern Bulgaria, there is no platform for the wheelchair. Thus, Nikoleta is forced to carry Theodor up and down the stairs. She cannot leave him in the apartment even for a short while, as the doors are too narrow and Theodor cannot reach the bathroom in his wheelchair.

Habitat for Humanity Bulgaria is aiming to help families like Nikoleta’s. With funding from the Women Build Department in the USA it launched a project to adapt living environment to children with disabilities. Apartments will be reconstructed to meet special needs: wide doors, extra spaces, holding devices in bathrooms and toilets, sockets and switches at accessible heights. The project will help 20 Bulgarian families with physically disabled children. Habitat Bulgaria will work on it in cooperation with the Center for Independent Living.

Reconstructions costs will vary from family to family. On average, each family will be offered a loan of more than USD3,000. They will be repaying it in small installments over 3-5 years. At the same time, families will be actively involved in the whole process, from selection of construction companies to monitoring the implementation. The work will start in September and is scheduled to finish in 7 months.

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 Kyrgyzstan in a number of ways. Here are some examples:

•Visit our donations page to support projects in Bulgaria.
•Go to country profile pages to learn about other programs in this country.

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