Pia Jerslund from the board of Mission East was impressed by the work of Bridge of Hope.
By Svend Løbner 29 Apr 2022 |

Armenia: Children with disabilities are given the opportunity to develop

Pia Jerslund from Mission East's board has just visited Armenia for the first time in 24 years. She says: - Children with disabilities come out of isolation and parents form groups where they support each other, yes, there has been a change of attitude in the whole society.

Can you perform in a theatre, take a university education and participate in national math competitions when you have a disability? Of course!

A targeted effort over 30 years is now bearing fruit, says Pia Jerslund from Mission East's board. She has just returned from a trip to Armenia with Managing Director Betina Gollander-Jensen and communications officer Karen Sophie Kragh.

A change of attitude in society

Pia Jerslund could clearly see change in the country, which she visited back in 1997 in connection with an emergency aid distribution.

- It was exciting to see what we have actually achieved in all those years. That we, together with the organization Bridge of Hope, have been able to improve the lives of people with disabilities. And that the work has largely succeeded in reversing the attitude of society. And alleviating the parents' sense of guilt and shame.

Before, children with disabilities were hidden away in the houses without options. But that’s now in the past:

- When we visited a school, we met a girl with spastic paralysis. She is so clever that she participates in math competitions in Armenia. 30 years ago, she would have ended up as illiterate, states Pia Jerslund.

Mothers give up careers to support their children

She was also impressed by mothers who sat with their children every day to support them in school. Children who in many cases cannot be there alone.

- Mothers give up their jobs and careers to take care of their children. One of these mothers has started studying psychology so she can help other parents support their children. In addition, she writes plays for a theater in the capital Yerevan, where people with disabilities perform.

- Another mother is an opera singer who has also given up her career to help her child. At the same time, she has set up a parent group where parents can meet and talk together. Parents obviously need to meet and support each other. For many, having a child with a disability is still shameful.

Twins with disabilities took a university degree

Pia Jerslund and the team also visited one of the four centers that Bridge of Hope operates in northern Armenia. Here, families in the town and the surrounding villages can come and draw on the skills of the staff, receive instruction in how to train with their children, and learn various exercises they can use at home.

Many of the users referred to the centers as their family, says Pia Jerslund:

- Here they belonged, and here they were met with love, understanding and the professionalism they need. They lit up when they told us about their center.

- We met a winegrower who has two daughters who both have a disability and have been affiliated with a Bridge of Hope center since it started in 2005. The twins are 28 years old and have both taken a pedagogical education at the university. They are now helping out at the Bridge and Hope Center, where they themselves have gone to rehab. The father has also hired one daughter to take care of the wine farm's finances and the other to take care of PR and marketing.

- He said we could not imagine what it meant for him and his daughters and others with disabilities that someone came to look at their center and take their situations seriously. It means a whole lot to them. It was very touching! ends Pia Jerslund.

Pia Jerslund fra Mission Østs bestyrelse i Armenien

Holdningsændring i samfundet

Pia Jerslund kunne tydeligt se forandring i landet, som hun besøgte tilbage i 1997 i forbindelse med en nødhjælpsuddeling.

- Det var spændende at se, hvad vi faktisk har opnået på alle de år. At vi sammen med organisationen Bridge of Hope virkelig har kunnet forbedre livet for personer med handicap. Og at det i høj grad er lykkedes at vende samfundets holdning. Og afbøde forældrenes følelse af skyld og skam.

Før blev børn med handicap gemt væk i husene uden muligheder. Men det er fortid nu:

- Da vi besøgte en skole, mødte vi en pige med spastisk lammelse. Hun er så klog, at hun er med til matematikkonkurrencer i Armenien. For 30 år siden ville hun være blevet endt som analfabet, konstaterer Pia Jerslund.

Mødre opgiver karriere for at støtte deres børn

Hun var også imponeret af mødre, der hver dag sad sammen med deres børn for at støtte dem i undervisningen. Børn, der i mange tilfælde ikke kan være i skolen alene.

- Mødrene opgiver deres arbejde og karriere for at tage sig af deres børn. En af disse mødre er begyndt at læse psykologi, så hun kan hjælpe andre forældre med at støtte deres børn. Derudover skriver hun teaterstykker til et teater i hovedstaden Jerevan, hvor personer med handicap spiller med.

- En anden mor er operasanger, som også har opgivet sin karriere for at hjælpe sit barn. Samtidig har hun oprettet en forældregruppe, hvor forældre kan mødes og tale sammen. Det er jo klart at man har brug for at mødes og støtte hinanden. For mange er det stadig skamfuldt at have et barn med handicap.

Tvillinger med handicap tog en universitetsuddannelse

Pia Jerslund og teamet besøgte også et af de fire centre, Bridge of Hope driver i det nordlige Armenien. Her kan familier i byen og de omkringliggende landsbyer komme og trække på medarbejdernes kompetencer, modtage undervisning i, hvordan de træner med deres børn, og lære forskellige øvelser, de kan bruge derhjemme.

Mange af brugerne omtalte centrene som deres familie, fortæller Pia Jerslund:

- Her hørte de til, og her blev de mødt med den kærlighed, forståelse og professionalisme, de har brug for. De lyste op, når de fortalte os om deres center.

- Vi mødte en vinbonde, der har to døtre, der begge har et handicap og har været tilknyttet et Bridge of Hope-center siden det startede i 2005. De to tvillinger er 28 år og har begge taget en pædagoguddannelse på universitetet. De hjælper nu til på det Bridge og Hope-center, hvor de selv har gået til genoptræning. Faren har desuden ansat den ene datter til at tage sig af vinfarmens økonomi og den anden til at tage sig af PR og markedsføring.

- Han sagde, at vi ikke kunne forestille os, hvad det betød for ham og hans døtre og andre med handicap, at der kommer nogen og ser på deres center og tager deres situationer alvorligt. Det betyder helt uendeligt meget for dem. Det var meget rørende! slutter Pia Jerslund.

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