A young a girl Nastya Tei arrived at the Obereg Rehabilitation Center in Kyrgyzstan having been diagnosed with an intellectual disability and signs of autism. Before arriving at Obereg she had few opportunities to learn alongside other children. Nastya was uncomfortable in a classroom setting and was very shy. She would respond to teachers’ requests by saying “I cannot, I don’t know, I don’t want to.”
Over 11,000 children with disabilities have never entered school in Kyrgyzstan, according to data from local government bodies. Currently only 1,000 children with disabilities are enrolled in school. This year new measures will tackle this disparity, insuring better access and inclusion for students with disabilities. One measure calls for new construction codes so that new schools will be built better able to accommodate children with disabilities. Other measures include expanding opportunities for students to develop their professional and creative abilities. The Education Reform Program of the Open Society foundation in Kyrgyzstan has been supporting these efforts since 2011, including one such program at Obereg Rehabilitation Center.
Nastya’s life changed after she arrived at Obereg. She developed new skills to help her participate in class and complete tasks. Obereg allowed her to learn in a group setting with other children—with and without disabilities. This helped her become more comfortable interacting with other students and people in general. She participated in several clubs including beadwork, dramatics, and housekeeping which helped Nastya learn new skills. The beadworking club increased Nastya’s ability to work with her hands. Not only is she gaining valuable skills for her future, but now she enjoys going to school.
At Obereg, children and young adults with physical and intellectual disabilities including cerebral palsy, epilepsy, Down Syndrome, and autism have the opportunity to receive professional education alongside students without disabilities. By developing creative skills and improving existing capabilities, students are given the tools to start their own studios and workshops. With expanded access to education in Kyrgyzstan, we hope to have many more stories like that of Nastya Tei.
Obereg is just one example that highlights the need for inclusive education in all types of settings. Inclusion of students with disabilities, whether in the formal school system or in professional or vocational schools, will carve out much needed space for the 11,000 students who have never set foot in the classroom. Every child deserves to go to school.
Educators at Obereg champion their students, having firsthand understanding of their value. As one teacher puts it, “Our students are not a burden to society. They are full of energy and creativity. They have kind, open hearts. They are happy and freely express their emotions, warmth, and help each other.”