Arjon is a smiling boy age 16, who is benefiting from Save the Children’s new supported centre for children with disabilities in Durres. Arjon was diagnosed with cerebral palsy in his first year of life.
“Arjon had many difficulties with moving, playing and communicating. For a mother being told that your child will not walk, play, learn and talk is a devastating moment and I cannot explain the pain and how hopeless I felt on that moment and many times within the last 15 years” said Arjon’s mother.
Arjon’s family is composed of six people, grandfather, two parents and two older brothers, who live in one of the most impoverished areas of Durres. Here, many families have migrated from rural areas and have settled within the last decade. Arjon’s father works as a taxi driver and his oldest brother works in a call centre. The other brother, who is most connected with Arjon, is 18 years old and is carrying out his high school education. Arjon’s mother is unemployed and her life is dedicated to caring for Arjon and the whole family.
Arjon’s life has been really tough and filled with barriers and struggles in overcoming the hardships he has faced. Throughout his life the only service he has been able to benefit from is state social assistance, of about 100 Euro per month, and two weeks physical therapy in a community rehabilitation centre in the capital. In addition to this, Arjon has been unable to integrate with his peers, as he often gets sick and suffers from epilepsy and asthma, which he must take regular medication for. The lack of rehabilitation services he has received has worsened his psychological state, self-expression and communication.
Arjon’s mother noted that: “As Arjon was growing up, his motivation and desire to express his feelings and communicate with people was fading. He increasingly refused to draw, play and learn. I had bought him markers, pencils, books and toys to encourage development and communication but every of my effort seemed useless. Arjon refused everything and was very hesitant to any kind of learning. We have also tried to register him in school but the teachers refused to enrol him due to the very silent situation he had. He cried every time he saw children going to school in the morning and I was heartbroken. He compared himself with some black drawn simple lines which he himself didn’t like”
The family feared that the situation could send him into a state of depression and started looking for help. The family was referred by the municipal social services to approach the Save the Children supported Community Based Centre in Durres.
Arjon was 15 years old when he joined the centre and from that time and on, Arjon never misses a day from his therapy and is the first to go and last to leave the centre. He calls the centre his school and is excited about his participation in the centre activities.
Today, after a year of intensive support with individual and group therapies, Arjon has significantly improved his fine and gross motor performance, and his emotional development and learning.
He is able to kick and throw the ball to his peers and can control his standing and walking better. His hand muscle memory has also improved through finger and normal painting, puzzles and tablet based therapy games, carried out at the centre. He learned how to combine and separate colours, how to order things based on the alphabet, and he has gained practical skills in organising things, in shaping and reshaping objects. These activities have developed his abilities to cooperate, focus and to follow specialist instructions.
In cooperation with other centre peers and the psychologist, Arjon has been able to build his ideal neighbourhood and feels proud and happy to show it to his mother. Body mapping is another favourite activity of Arjon’s. He is able to draw his body parts but also to express, through colours, in which part of body he feels the anger and happiness.
“I got so emotional and happy when I understood for the first time, after 16 years, how my son feels while he is angry or happy. Today, I’m excited for Arjon’s changes and progress and am so grateful for the centre support and the professional work of the staff” said Arjon’s mother.
The significant and fast psychosocial and motor changes of Arjon has brought back hopes for a much better path forward. Now, Arjon has the opportunity to receive quality services and rehabilitate and develop the skills he had been missing throughout his life. In the centre, he has made friends and is proud of his progress and achievements. He has learned pre-math, ABC concepts and has a strong reason to smile and enjoy communicating with peers and staff in the centre.
In Albania, it is estimated that only 10,4%, of 70,000 children with disabilities, are receing services in residential day care and daily centres. About 30% of children with disabilities, aged 6-18, are not currently in school and 35% of kindergartens and basic education schools do not meet accessibility standards.
To respond to the need and high demand for access to quality services and provide children with disabilities the opportunities to rehabilitate and integrate in school and community, Save the Children opened two Community Based Centres in two of the largest regions of Albania in October 2016. Community Based Centres for Children with Disabilities are well-designed and equipped facilitities with spaceful and friendly classroom and play areas. The centres offer free direct and integrated services for about 250 children with disabilities annually. They receive individual treatment and therapy, as to the needs, consultation and educational services as well as their parents are trained and supported on how to work with children at home and how to advocate for their children’s needs and rights.