Project report: Support for Families of People with Disabilities in Armenia

SGS 2023 Grantee: Unison NGO for Support of People with Special Needs, Armenia.

Project: Support for Families of Persons with Disabilities in Armenia.

Here is their report:

All families face various challenges. The families of people with disabilities (PWDs) encounter even more difficulties and stereotypes, which may hamper the process of overcoming problems. Family members are a key source of services and support for PWDs throughout life, helping people to remain living at home and in the community.

The common problems arise from unfair conditions faced by PWDs, including stigma, discrimination, poverty, exclusion from education and employment, and barriers faced in the health system. Also, PWDs and their families were heavily affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and many of them need urgent support.

Our project was aimed at helping 60 families of PWDs by increasing their skills aimed at preserving the family, establishing healthy relationships among all family members and meeting the “special” needs of those who have a disability. To do this, Unison, in partnership with the Family Counselling Centre NGO, held 6 workshops for PWDs and their family members.

65 People with Disabilities and family members from 60 families participated in the workshops. They gained new knowledge on how to keep their families strong, how to behave in stressful situations etc. Therefore, not only the workshop participants but also their families benefited from the grant. Altogether, the number of beneficiaries is approximately 250 people (as the average family size is four). All of the 65 participants received certificates, and the 60 families also received aid packages at the end of the workshops.

The participants developed an understanding of the foundations of a healthy family regardless of various conditions and challenges. Common stereotypes and existing risks were discussed. The workshops were held in an interactive manner, with active involvement of participants as partners rather than as passive audiences, thanks to several games and other activities moderated by the facilitators. The participants also got information about various support organisations.

In the middle of the project we encountered a force majeure situation. After a short and destructive war in September 2023, more than 100,000 indigenous people of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) were forced to leave their homeland. They lost their homes, belongings, pets, in other words, everything they used to have. Among those 100,000 Armenians, 9,000 disabled people were forcibly displaced to Armenia. Many disabled people were even unable to bring their wheelchairs and other supportive devices.

As a result of this mass deportation, Armenia’s population was severely distressed. For the project team it was really difficult (both physically and morally) to continue with the project. We were about to suspend our project activities in order to focus on providing humanitarian aid to the disabled refugees. However, we decided not only to continue our activities but also to expand them in order to assist disabled people forcibly displaced from Artsakh. Particularly, all participants in one of the workshops within the framework of the project were persons with disabilities and their family members from Artsakh. Unexpectedly, though in a way too emotional, this particular workshop was the most successful event of the project. According to the participants, the meeting in Unison was like a ray of light after the nightmare they had endured. The workshop gave them hope for a better future and a return to normal life.

It is worth mentioning that due to the situation in the country, most organisations for PWDs had not implemented any programme for a very long time, so all these people felt abandoned and forgotten. Their joy was immense when they accidentally saw on social media the announcement about our planned workshop.

There were many interesting and exciting stories during and after the workshops. One of the disabled participants admitted at the end of the programme that she had not left the house for 10 years and this was the first time she dared to go out. She was very happy that the programme helped her overcome

her fears and participate in the workshop, and that her expectations were met. She was very afraid that this attempt would end in failure and she would no longer want to go out and see people, but it did not happen. She is confident that she will live an active life from now on. She is making handmade toys and our organisation is helping her to organise online sales.

In general, all participants agreed that the strength of family ties and the skills required to maintain a strong family helped them a lot to overcome stereotypes and be stronger in their daily lives.

The non-formal educational methods that were used during the workshops helped the participants to relieve stress and anxiety, to express and communicate more freely, make friends, exchange contacts and keep in touch later. We also conducted a needs assessment, and were able to put some participants in touch with participants from our previous programmes, as a result of which one of the participants with her husband took a free hairdressing course and found a job. We were able to help the other one in purchasing necessary medications… All of this contributes to the sustainability of the project outcomes.

It is worth mentioning that we were happy and simultaneously surprised to learn that many more people were interested in participating in our workshops than we could host due to the limitations of place, time and resources. The lesson learned therefore is that we should better assess the needs of our potential beneficiaries and plan the activities in a way which will allow to engage with all those who need it.

As a direct result for Unison NGO, we have managed to increase the number of our beneficiaries. We have also established a fruitful and promising cooperation with the Family Counselling Centre NGO.

We will use our new experience for the benefit of people with disabilities in Armenia including those who were displaced from Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) in September 2023.

As anticipated, we collaborated with the Office of Human Rights Defenders of Armenia, disability NGOs and the Municipality of Yerevan. All of these organisations helped us engage persons with disabilities and their family members in the project activities. In the future, we are planning to strengthen these partnership to make Armenian society more inclusive and to fight discrimination on the grounds of disability.

Our collaboration with our project partner will be continued. Given the huge interest to our family-related workshops, we are now exploring opportunities to hold a new series of such workshops in 2024.

On behalf of the project team and the 2 partner organisations, I would like to express our sincere gratitude for supporting this important project and for the excellent attitude towards the grantees. We wish you success and prosperity in 2024 and following years.

Armen Alaverdyan, Executive Director

Unison NGO for Support of People with Special Needs, Armenia

Facebook: Unison NGO / Ունիսոն

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