At the centre, the time needed is taken to train children like seven-year-old Zohir to walk in spite of cerebral palsy. Photo: Joël de Vos
By Joël de Vos & Line Højland 30 Nov 2018 |

New center helps children with disabilities in remote mountains

Nargis and Zohir both have a disability, but at Mission East’s rehabilitation center in south-eastern Tajikistan, they prove that it is possible for them to learn and develop.

The mountains rise like big grey shadows along the road, and kilometres after kilometres there are nothing but stone, gravel and a sparse shrubbery on the raw cliffs. But despite the harsh landscape, there are still people who live in the south-eastern Tajik province of Gorno-Badakhshan. This becomes clear when driving into the city of Kalaikhumb, which appears as a green oasis thanks to the Panj River, which forms the border with Afghanistan. 

Harsh conditions for children with disabilities

The conditions in the area are harsh. Due to the mountains, the area is largely isolated from the rest of the already poor country. If you are so unfortunate to be born with a disability, the conditions are even harder.

Guljahon and Gulistan know all about it. They are both mothers of children with disabilities: Guljahon's ten-year-old daughter Nargis has Down's syndrome, and Guliston's seven-year-old son Zohir suffers from cerebral palsy. Like thousands of other people with disabilities before them, they could look forward to a life of isolation, poverty and deep dependence on a family member being willing to take care of them. In the former Soviet republic, it is the view that people with disabilities are born defective and that nothing can be done to help them. Until recently.

Agitated and nervous

December last year, Mission East opened the doors to a brand-new rehabilitation center in Kalaikhumb, in cooperation with the local disability organization Markazi Nur and funded by the European Union. The model was similar centers established by Mission East elsewhere in Tajikistan and in Armenia. Now the turn has come to the isolated Gorno-Badakhshan.

Guljahon and her daughter Nargis attend the center two hours every day. Nargis is doing fine physically, so at the center they concentrate on her cognitive development, and during the last six months there have been drastic changes:

"Before we began at the center, my daughter was often agitated and nervous and very difficult to communicate with. Now she has learned some songs, counting and is interacting better with people around her. She seems happier and more relaxed, and she has become much better at focusing when she plays or we are doing something else," says Guljahon, 43, who works at a kindergarten where Mission East's employees visited her and told her about center, just as it opened.

Can count to 300

Also Guliston and her son Zohir attend the center two hours every day to strengthen the son's physical as well as cognitive development: "I have done my best to help him, but so far, I did not know how. That I have now learned at the rehabilitation center, so I can continue at home," says the 39-year-old mother. "He has learned many songs, can count to 300 in Tajik and to 50 in English, and he can sit down and get up by himself. He still needs walking exercise, but here he practices every day and he gets better and better to use his legs," she says, adding:" He is really happy and excited to get to the center and play with his little friends."

Maysara, working at the center, is pleased to make this difference in the children's lives:

"I do this work because I love children and I show parents how to take care of the children," she says.

This article refers to activities under the project Social Services 4 Inclusion, which supports rights and services for people with disabilities. The project is funded by the European Union.

Ten-year-old Nargis used to be agitated and nervous. Now she happily plays with the other children and the rehabilitation center in Kalaikhumb. Photo: Joël de Vos