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Children in wheelchairs smiling behind the window glass or out in the playground, other children visiting and making friends with them – giving out gifts and flowers, even cooking for them – these are the colourful stories the #DrawDisability campaign received from Lumos, Bulgaria.
Second grade students from St. St. Cyril and Methodius School and fourth-graders from Dimitar Talev School in Dobrich, Bulgaria expressed their feelings and experience on the issue of disability and how important it is for ALL children to be involved in the school and town community. Lumos supported the campaign in both schools, and in a centre for children with disabilities. The second-graders, in fact, were inspired by their visit to a centre of family-type accommodation for children with disabilities, the new home of a number of children with complex difficulties. They had been previously living in an institution for the closure of which Lumos had been working for several years.
Bright colours, clear skies and beaming faces. Is this the life for children with disability in Bulgaria?
While most of the drawings depicted happily playing children and lots of smiles, still the request for help to society was observable in quite a number of drawings. After playing with her peers with disability, one of the children commented on her drawing – “It is not pleasant to have a disability but the children spent a good time with us”.
One particular drawing stood out with its overflowing empathy. The author had sensed one of the challenges her peers with disability may face. The child with disability she drew says, “I do not want to be alone. I want to play, I want to be loved by other kids.
Offering a friendly hand, offering a warm smile, and the unprejudiced sense of them being all children who love to play and laugh together, that is what gave rise to the bright colours of the drawings and the predominant message of happiness.
Before the visit, the students from Dobrich conducted some educational activities on the theme of disability, reflecting on the abilities and challenges of people with physical and intellectual difficulties and the way to communicate with them. The children from the Centre were also prepared for the visit. They had gifts for their visitors – a color print of their hands on cardboard where it was written “Hello! My name is…. “. For many children drawing with their hands for #DrawDisability was a memorable new experience. Their reactions varied from astonishment, curiosity and insecurity to tumultuous joy. When the Dobrich school children were later asked if they wanted to visit the centre again, they responded with a loud and unanimous “Yes!”, and kept asking their teachers when they could do it or whether the children could repay their visit.
Earlier this year, in March, Lumos supported another event aimed at raising awareness of disability at the Vocational School of Forestry and Carpentry “Nickolay Haitov” in Varna, Bulgaria. It was initiated by the Bulgarian Group of Children and Young people with Learning Disabilities – Self-Advocates and was called Listen to Me. I am an Expert. “Children with special educational needs are the experts, they know best what barriers they face, so we ask them. All children have the opportunity to express themselves through drawing, while parents, teachers and students communicate with each other and reflect on how to support the children. Such events during the school year freshen up the school environment and culture, and offer children new self-confidence as well as a memorable experience”, explained Aneta Teneva, expert in Child Participation in the Lumos Foundation.
There were interactive games, a discussion forum on disability and art time for both students with and without disabilities. The Technical University Social Science students volunteered to support the children during the activities. Journalists from national TV and radio stations interviewed some of the children. It was a safe and friendly school environment where the children talked to each other, drew together, had fun, and learned from each other that disability exists only when there is no prepared environment. They all shared a belief that if we know each other better, communicate all issues together, there are no barriers to be friends, to do things together.
Veliko, a coordinator of the event and a self-advocate for children with intellectual disabilities, shared, “Thanks to our drawings and meetings, children and adults at school will better understand the problems of children with disabilities, and I think the easiest way is by asking us. By sending out our drawings to the world, we can help to change the attitudes towards many other children with disabilities, because wherever we are around the globe, we have the same difficulties and problems at school.”
Drawing: Veliko Velikov, 15 years old, Varna, Bulgaria
Lumos has been working with young self-advocates with intellectual disabilities since 2012 seeking to develop authentic participation of children with intellectual difficulties living in families or institutions, to support them to express their opinion. It consults them regarding issues important to them and encourages them to become confident young people who can advocate for their own rights.
“We strongly believe that the #DrawDisability Campaign can change attitudes towards disability all over the world, and that our children and young people will become better adults with no prejudices. That is why we participated in the Campaign!”
All drawings are visible in the online #DrawDissability gallery.
[Head photo and information about the events – provided by Lumos]
Blagovesta Troeva works at the Department of English at New Bulgarian University, Sofia. She obtained her first Master’s degree in British and American Studies at Sofia University, Bulgaria. While her career develops in the field of foreign language teaching, she also has profound interests in human rights, anti-discrimination, inclusion and learning difficulties. She has completed the Erasmus Mundus Special and Inclusive Education – a joined Master’s programme of the University of Roehampton, London, Oslo University, and Charles University, Prague.