Belarusians with Disabilities Gain Strength in Numbers

Tatiana Pukalo hands out Christmas gifts to children with disabilities at a community charity event
Tatiana Pukalo hands out Christmas gifts to children with disabilities at a community charity event.
Natalia Ivanova
Removing barriers, increasing services
“What would have happened to me if I hadn’t believed in myself after my first successful project? Sometimes I feel that I have lived not just one, but several lives.”

May 2014—Since 2008, USAID has helped more than 600 people with disabilities in Belarus to strengthen organizations that serve people with disabilities, enhance advocacy efforts to promote inclusion, and support the development of innovative services. 

One of these committed individuals is Tatiana Pukalo, a young woman from the town of Bobruisk. “Just imagine, eight years ago, I often suffered panic attacks simply by leaving my apartment. What would have happened to me if I hadn’t believed in myself after my first successful project? Sometimes I feel that I have lived not just one, but several lives,” she explained as she recounted her efforts to build self-esteem and inner strength while struggling with an incapacitating congenital condition that ended her professional career in a woodworking factory.

Looking to build a new life, Pukalo formed a volunteer group in 2007 to unite people with disabilities in her home town and work to improve their circumstances. This first experience of civic activism inspired her to look for more opportunities. It also helped her realize that she needed to assume responsibility for her own life while striving to acquire knowledge and skills to help other people in need. 

Pukalo developed her leadership skills in a series of  trainings and activities from 2009 to 2013 under USAID's Expanding Participation of People with Disabilities project, which runs through September 2015. She has become the driving force in a number of initiatives advocating cultural and social integration of people with disabilties as well as playing a leading role in fighting stigma and discrimination.

In 2011, Pukalo conducted an information campaign in Bobruisk designed to raise public awareness of the rights and needs of people with disabilities. The campaign’s message centered on how to interact with people with disabilities without reinforcing stereotypes. Pukalo also engaged volunteers to showcase artwork created by people with disabilities in their communities.

Over the past two years, the young volunteers Pukalo organized have set up a system of support to local adults and children with disabilities, holding charity events, providing ongoing home care, even helping with household chores.

Pukalo also helped create a social interactive theater that performs for college students, educators and people with disabilities throughout the region. The theater improves the social skills of the people with disabilities who act in the plays or provide support services. The theatrical performances contribute to fighting lingering prejudices and psychological barriers that people with disabilities face.

Most recently, Pukalo created a self-help group to empower people with disabilities and parents raising children with disabilities to help each other by sharing experiences and mobilizing community resources. Its members discuss the challenges they face and how to address them while providing individual advice and support. As a result of her unwavering commitment and hard work over the years, Pukalo has become an influential voice and a community leader who is often interviewed by media as a local expert and an opinion maker.

The Expanding Participation of People with Disabilities project works with ChildFund International to increase integration of people with disabilities into Belarusian society. Activities focus on consolidating grassroots organizations and initiatives for people with disabilities; achieving inclusion through targeted advocacy efforts aimed at policy makers, educators and social workers; and promoting inclusive education as the most practical way of attaining integration. 

Links

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Last updated: October 30, 2014

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