Caring, kindness, patience, and understanding is the recipe that cares for people with intellectual disabilities in Kyiv.
Kyiv, Ukraine – “My life here is interesting. Life for me is like Yin and Yang”, says Vania, after happily showing off his Kung Fu fighting skills that he learned from watching the movie, Ip Man. Vania is one of the over 180 people with intellectual disabilities who come to the civil society organization, Djerela, every year, to learn different life skills, wanting to be independent.
Djerela is a Kyiv-based organization that provides trainings and services for people with intellectual disabilities. These include people with down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, and other genetic disorders. Their unique approach helps these people use art, fun activities, and excursions to learn life skills such as communication, and resolving conflicts. With different approaches, they are able to provide services such as expert counseling, social rehabilitation, master classes, and arts events.
Similarly, they give opportunities for students and youth to learn more about people with disabilities through volunteer work, to meet with people with intellectual disabilities themselves. Their goal is to raise awareness for people with intellectual disabilities, and to fight the discrimination and stigma against them.
I like it here because I like to gain life skills and when I learn, my life would not be so difficult
Vania goes to classes about what others may think is simple, from using kettles, cleaning socks, or communicating with others. Like him, Lesha attends, and sometimes teaches those classes himself. “I like it here because I like to gain life skills and when I learn, my life would not be so difficult”, he says. Lesha likes to talk, dance, paint, and is proud to be creative; things he explores in his free time.
Singing, theatre, dancing, helping others, and communicating are some lessons Tanya comes to Djerela for, regularly. Now 30, she has learned a lot from coming to the center, and feels that she found her true calling. “I love it, I love being here” she says, “and I think that my life purpose is helping people”.
From painting, singing, acting, to washing clothes, and talking to people, Vania, Lesha, and Tanya, all people with intellectual disabilities, come to Djerela to learn different life skills. “I like to cook! Our Borsch is the best!” Lesha says, after happily talking about what he learned in his classes.
A cup of Caring and A Liter of Patience
Djerela was started by a group of 20 caring mothers, and has now grown to 180, and joined by hundreds of volunteers from across Kyiv, and a few countries like Germany. The volunteers, mostly students of psychology, education, theatre, or even gym, teach these people their own specialties. For Anna, a volunteer, it is a very rewarding experience, “I left my boring office job because I wasn’t happy with it… I started volunteering here and it feels like I am actually doing something important in society, so I decided to pursue it as a career”.
it feels like I am actually doing something important in society
Thinking she would take care of children, Daria came to Djerela to help people with mental disabilities. To her surprise, she was met with hugs from adults instead; a memory she would never forget. 6 years later, Daria, as the projects coordinator, still volunteers with the organization, and cares for these people. “It’s a difficult task”, she says, “because each person is very different, and you need plenty of patience when you know you can do tasks faster than them, but they need to learn”. It’s also very rewarding, she noted, when they finally do learn what we try to teach them.
Spread Plenty of Understanding and Kindness
Most people in Ukraine are still not aware about the rights and abilities of people with intellectual disabilities. There is a thought that that they must always be taken care of, and are not capable of anything. But people like Lesha have been coming to Djerela for years, and breaks those stereotypes. He loves doing administrative tasks, and has been keeping records of people who come into the center, an ability most people would not expect. He says, “I like being responsible, and taking registration everyday”.
Fueled by kindness, Daria made it her mission to promote the rights of these people. “I saw and felt genuine kindness from these people, and when I learned that they are separated from their community, I decided to fight for their rights so everybody could understand them better”.
With their “Communication without restrictions” project, Djerela youth team won a $5,000USD grant from UNDP through the U-Inn competition. Due to this support, they will provide opportunities to Ukrainian students to learn more about people with disabilities through their own experiences. The funds are also used to promote their work in universities for young people and gain volunteers, to run a camp for inclusive education and to promote rights of people with disabilities in the society.
By exposing more people to the realities of people with disabilities, Djerela hopes that peoples’ attitudes will change about them, and they will be better integrated into their communities. As part of the NGO “Coalition for the Protection of Persons with Disabilities due to Intellectual Impairment”, they continue to spread their unique approach through a network with over 116 other organizations.
With a recipe of caring, patience, kindness, spreading understanding, and a family of very happy people, Djerela reduces inequalities for people with disabilities. True enough, this wonderful growing family spreads a message for tolerance and equality, and fighting stigma and discrimination with love. This way, they are able to spread the word about people like Lesha, who wants to tell the world, “we are nice people”.
Author: Patrick Lloret, Junior Consultant, Civil Society for the Advancement of Democracy and Human Rights in Ukraine
Photos: Djerela Archive, Djerela FB page