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Unfair treatment: Veronique Garrett about plight of children with disabilities

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities is marked today, on December 3.

The wife of the UK Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Charles Garrett, Veronique, told 24.kg news agency about the problems of people with disabilities and orphans. She also shared her opinion on measures that should be taken to make society in Kyrgyzstan inclusive.

Veronique Garrett arrived in Kyrgyzstan a year and a half ago. She has chosen to take care of children with disabilities as her mission. The ambassador’s wife regularly visits Tokmak and Belovodsky orphanages, works there with disabled children and staff, showing them the importance and benefits of early intervention.

«The management is doing the best they can. They are open and welcoming. The children are warm, well-fed, and the staff is kind and caring,» Veronique Garrett told.

According to her, due to low salaries, specialists with sufficient qualifications do not go to work to residential institutions for children with disabilities. The staff of the institutions are often demotivated.

They work long hours caring for a large number of people, with many children staying in their beds during the day.

Veronique Garrett

«There is a day room for those children who can sit or move. But even there they sit in falling apart and broken wheelchairs or are propping up the floor due to lack of suitable seats,» she notes.

For 18 months of weekly visits to the both orphanages, the ambassador’s wife did not see any educational events held there.

«Children ’move’ from one institution to another as they grow up and end up in adult institutions where they while away their days in anticipation of old age and inevitable premature death. I saw deterioration in the condition of a child who moved from one institution to another, in the blink of an eye changing the environment and the guardians whom he loved and trusted,» Veronique Garrett told.

According to her, the tragedy of this situation is that too many children from orphanages in the country have at least one alive parent.

They were abandoned by their parents not because they are heartless or cruel, there is no support system that would allow them to raise their child.

Veronique Garrett

She stresses that families that still choose to raise and care for a child with disability face challenges, stigma and ostracism throughout their lives.

«Their children rarely go to school, they receive minimal benefits, they have little or no access to information, and they are constantly forced to hide,» the ambassador’s wife believes.

Veronique Garrett also recalls that when her daughter Florence with Down syndrome was born, she was also told more than once: «She will never achieve much, don’t expect her to read or write. She definitely won’t be able to ride a bike. Think about the career of your husband and other children. It’s okay if you decide to abandon her.»

But in the end, these words did not come true. Today, despite her diagnosis, Florence lives a full-fledged life.

The ambassador’s wife notes the role of NGOs in work with socially vulnerable groups of the population.

«There are indeed several outstanding NGOs in Kyrgyzstan: Santerra, Association for the Support of Families with Child with Down Syndrome, Hand in Hand for children with autism, Umut-Nadezhda and many others that offer early intervention and support to parents, but they do it on their own, without government help and in difficult circumstances,» Veronique Garrett says.

She emphasizes that there is a huge lack of awareness in the republic about the problem of people with disabilities and orphans due to the fact that they rarely appear in public.

«People with disabilities have been hiding behind closed doors for too long, either because of the stigma associated with disability and discrimination they face, or they are physically unable to leave their homes due to lack of access. These people remain invisible to strangers, very often live in isolation and lonely. People here are not evil, they just don’t know,» the ambassador’s wife added.

She recommends Kyrgyzstan to improve the lives of people with disabilities and make the state truly open to everyone.

«More politicians, doctors, teachers, mayors, journalists, lawyers and decision-makers in this country should sit down and listen to people who really know what to do, talk to the disabled themselves and their families,» advises Veronique Garrett.

She noted that the republic needs an accessible city in which people with disabilities can work and be a part of society. It needs schools that accept a child with intellectual disabilities, providing them with the support they need to learn and thrive. Libraries with books in Braille are also needed.

«A diverse society that supports and accepts its disabled, marginalized and vulnerable citizens is the best society from which everyone benefits. This is the path that all countries are following. Kyrgyzstan has started, but there are still a lot of work ahead that needs to be done,» Veronique Garrett concluded.