By Judith Santiago**
September 21, 2009—The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is empowering more than 900 displaced special needs children in the Republic of Georgia. By nurturing the children’s unique talents and abilities, they are learning how to become confident contributors to their local community.
Gio* is a 15 year-old boy with cerebral palsy. He has difficulty walking and has limited learning and communications skills. His condition has affected his ability to attend school regularly and interact with children his own age.
His parents learned about Gateway to the Future, a project of the Tblisi Youth House Foundation supported by UMCOR, and knew it was an opportunity for their son to learn in a new and loving environment. They enrolled him in a six month computer class where 127 other children were also enrolled.
New Found Talent
Although, Gio had never used a computer before, he took a special interest in this new found learning activity. The teacher worked with Gio’s special learning processes and characteristics, and paid special attention to him, while carefully explaining each computer lesson to the class.
After learning basic computer skills, Gio was ready for the next level. He was introduced to a paint program, allowing him to combine colors and photos. The teacher encouraged Gio to create diplomas for the Gateway to the Future’s gymnastics class and sports competition program. With the teacher’s assistance, Gio created an electronic version of his drawing and transformed it into a diploma-style format. The diplomas were printed and distributed to the honored sports competition participants.
“About 80 percent of the project’s participants achieved positive changes,” noted Nana Doliashvili, director of the Tblisi Youth House Foundation in a report to UMCOR. “There was a significant improvement in the social interaction between the various social groups and an increased awareness among the parents and their children on human rights.”
Gateway for the Future
Gateway for the Future was made possible through a $30,000 grant provided by UMCOR to the Tbilisi Youth House Foundation in the Republic of Georgia.
Social workers and psychologists assisting in this program, work closely with various public and non-governmental organizations to address the individual needs of the children. Through fun, educational and interactive learning activities, Gateway for the Future’s children are developing a sense of independence and ownership of their work, while enjoying classes like art, therapy gymnastics, cinema class, computer lessons, music, and theatre.
Parents are part of the program through a special psycho-social rehabilitation class where they learn approaches to interacting with their children in a way that encourages autonomy and helps form their unique identity. The parents learn to address their children’s personal needs on physical and emotional levels.
Out of the Shell
Gateway for the Future’s therapy gymnastics class improves the health and physical condition of more than 130 children. With the help of a professional trainer, participants learn personalized routines that address issues such as traumatic scoliosis, obesity problems or motor skills development, while strengthening cardiovascular and respiratory abilities.
Mira*, 8, benefited from the therapy gymnastics class. She has a mild form of scoliosis, a learning disability, and was extremely shy. The trainer worked with Mira to develop her motor skills, and to do specific exercises to improve her scoliosis. Numerous competitions boosted her self esteem and helped her to come out of her shell. Before long, Mira was expressing herself freely, socializing with her classmates and showing great overall improvement.
UMCOR in Georgia
UMCOR began humanitarian operations in the Republic of Georgia in 1993 to address the needs of women and children displaced by conflict by providing high quality medicines and medical supplies through its Pharmaceutical Distribution Program. This mission has grown since its inception to implement a number of transitional development projects throughout the country’s health clinics, orphanages, elderly homes and other institutions each year. UMCOR’s program areas include core sectors of emergency response, livelihood improvement, social and community development and health. UMCOR’s operations are based in the capital city of Tbilisi with a sub-office in the city of Kutaisi in Western Georgia.
How You Can Help
*Names have been changed.
** Santiago is a Program Coordinator for UMCOR Communications.