Ukrainian Parents Help Children with Disabilities Succeed in School

Classes at the summer camp for children with special needs, organized by parents’ NGOs  Rozvytok and Zolotyi Kliuchyk
Classes at the summer camp for children with special needs, organized by parents’ NGOs Rozvytok (Vinnytsya) and Zolotyi Kliuchyk (Ternopil) with financial support from USAID’s Step by Step Inclusive Education project.
T. Kamenschuk
Combined advocacy efforts open educational doors
“For two years, I endured repeated refusals to admit my daughter to kindergarten. That day, I felt a glimmer of hope that she might attend school.”

January 2016—Ukrainian parents are connecting with each other and proving that, when it comes to improving access to education for children with disabilities, there is strength in numbers.

It was a turning point for Viktoria Merezhko, mother of a 6-year-old daughter with autism, when she attended a workshop on enabling autistic children to succeed in school in 2014. The workshop was conducted at the USAID-supported Inclusive Resource Center (IRC) in Vinnytsia.

“After many years searching for special education instructors who could teach my child with autism, I felt hopeful,” explained Merezhko. “The first time I entered the Inclusive Resource Center, parents of children with disabilities were sharing their experiences and concerns. One of the biggest challenges they faced was finding a school and instructors to teach their children. For two years, I endured repeated refusals to admit my daughter to kindergarten. That day, I felt a glimmer of hope that she might attend school.”

USAID’s Step by Step Inclusive Education project helped establish the IRC in Vinnytsia. In November 2014, the Center began an effort called the Parents’ School, which created a community of parents of children with disabilities who connected in-person at the Center, over the Internet and by phone. 

At the IRC, parents can obtain literature and receive consultations from various specialists. For example, IRC staff teach parents how to structure letters to local educational authorities and how to initiate meetings to discuss their children’s needs. The Center also conducts seminars and organizes meetings with parents of children with disabilities.

“Most importantly, the parents have a place and a means to combine their efforts to advocate for the rights of their children,” says IRC coordinator Tetyana Kamenschuk. “The work of the IRC and the parents involved with it resulted in a breakthrough moment this past September, when 18 autistic children—the most ever—received admission to various schools for the 2015-16 school year.”

“Our next step is to register our parents’ organization as a non-governmental organization,” said Merezhko. “We plan to continue working with the parents to develop their proposals and to establish partnerships with other NGOs, pre-schools and schools. All this would not have been possible without USAID’s Step by Step Inclusive Education project, which provided initial support to us through the IRC.”

The Step by Step Inclusive Education program, which ran from December 2013 to August 2015, was designed to improve access to education and other services for children with special needs. The program was implemented by the Ukrainian Step by Step Foundation. In addition to Vinnytsia, USAID established IRCs in in Kyiv, Cherkasy and Rivne oblast. The primary functions of the centers are providing information to parents on the benefits of inclusive education for their children and connecting them to organizations providing services to children with disabilities and their families.

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Last updated: June 07, 2019

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