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Improving social inclusion for people with disabilities

For the past 19 years, a team of special educators from the Maca Ovcharova elementary school for children with disabilities in Veles, have organized numerous art and drama workshops, as well as sports and other educational activities.

Veles, 2 September 2019 (MIA) – For the past 19 years, a team of special educators from the Maca Ovcharova elementary school for children with disabilities in Veles, have organized numerous art and drama workshops, as well as sports and other educational activities where their students can socialize with other children, their parents, teachers and citizens, in order to improve social inclusion for people with disabilities.

One of the experts, Zaga Kolodezni, said that their endeavors are aimed at raising awareness of this issue.

Art workshops aimed to improve social inclusion

Over the summer, Kolodezni and her colleagues organized several art workshops for children from the Maca Ovcharova school and other elementary schools, as part of the “Inclusive art caravan” project.

Kolodezni explained that during the course of these workshops, students learned several art techniques, including painting with acrylics and watercolors, and sculpting with clay and plaster.

“The project was aimed at improving social inclusion of children with disabilities by having them work and socialize with their peers from the regular elementary schools,” Kolodezni said.

Children with disabilities are incredibly talented and friendly

Kolodezni emphasized that art workshops and colonies improve social inclusion.

The first inclusive art colony took place in Struga between July 13 and 15. A total of 15 students from the regular elementary schools and the Maca Ovcharova school took place in the event, which was also a part of the “Inclusive art caravan” project.

“I have worked with students with disabilities for the past 19 years and I can assure you that they are incredibly talented and motivated, as well as eager to socialize and prove themselves,” Kolodezni said.

The aim of the project is for students from the regular schools and those with disabilities to socialize through art, educator and project mentor Dragancho Tanevski explained.

“We brought the students to Struga to see the lake, learn more about the city and paint the sights. Under my mentorship, they first observed the scenery before proceeding to make their art. They worked in pairs in order to get to know each other and socialize and they managed to overcome their differences and get along well,” Tanevski said.

He added that these types of events are a rare occurrence in the country, but that their success should inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

All children are the same

Mihaela Mirova, a student from one of the regular elementary schools in Veles, said that at the art workshops and colonies she made new friends from the elementary school for children with disabilities.

“We are all the same,” Mirova added.

Monika Najdovska, another elementary school student, said that these events were a great way to meet new people and overcome the stereotypes about people with disabilities.

“I will definitely introduce my new friends to my old ones, so they can see how talented and nice they are,” Najdovska added.

Kolodezni said that people with disabilities are more easily accepted by the society when they are children, rather than when they are adults and that these types of inclusive art and sports activities help improve social inclusion.

The second inclusive art colony took place on August 24. Participants were tasked to paint using flowers they had previously gathered in the vicinity.

The third and last inclusive art colony will take place on September 14 and participants will make clay sculptures inspired by the ancient city of Stobi. All artwork will be showcased and sold at an exhibit scheduled to take place in the beginning of October.

“All proceeds will be used to organize similar events, which will help improve social inclusion and raise awareness,” Kolodezni explained.

Social inclusion is a trend rather than reality

Kolodezni said that social inclusion of people with disabilities is a trend rather than reality in contemporary society.

“The main issue is that the society doesn’t fully embrace people with disabilities. They are excluded from different aspects, including artistic and creative activities,” Kolodezni said.

Art workshops and colonies, and similar events help society embrace people with disabilities.

Kolodezni added that a defectology expert should know how to listen to the students, sense their deficiencies and eliminate them. They should also teach their students how to find their place in the community.

People with disabilities are drawn to special education teachers and other professionals.

“One of my professors always used to say that a person with disability would recognize and approach you anywhere in the world. This theory has proven correct on many occasions,” Kolodezni said.

She added that their work is multidisciplinary and covers many aspects of the lives of people with disabilities.

“Our job includes working closely with the family members and peers of people with diabilitites,” Kolodezni explained.

Social inclusion is the process of improving the opportunities people with disabilities have in the society and teaching them how to make decisions of local and national importance.

In order to raise awareness, Kolodezni and her colleagues have given many talks on the topic of social inclusion to teachers, professionals, parents and students.

They have also taught the families of people with disabilities their rights and the ways to exercise them, and organized many art and music workshops and other activities for the students of the “Maca Ovcharova” school.

“Last year, my colleagues and I visited all the schools in Veles and taught the students about social inclusion. Then they took part in various inclusive workshops, where they could socialize with their peers with disabilities and overcome prejudice,” Kolodezni said.

Embracing diversity

Kolodezni said that all their projects are aimed at raising awareness about social inclusion, as the practice is taught at a young age.

“We promote inclusion through educational workshops for the students in Veles and teach them to embrace diversity and see people for who they are, not for their disability. Every student is different, but no one should be discriminated against. These are some of the rules we teach students from the regular schools in order to improve social inclusion,” Kolodezni said.

The inclusive workshops have changed the way students treat people with disabilities.

“Through games and other activities, we teach them how to assist people with disabilities without offending them,” Kolodezni explained.

She added that today people use technology to communicate, so they try to find different ways for students to socialize both with their peers and with children with disabilities.

Through various activities, they teach children with disabilities how to function in the society. The children are eager to learn and overcome obstacles, which helps them grow both emotionally and morally.

By achieving their potentials, they make new friendships which only grow throughout the rest of their lives.

“They get out of their comfort zone and learn how to overcome various obstacles and function in society,” Kolodezni said.

She is proud of the success of past inclusive colonies in Struga, where regular students and those with disabilities had the chance to spend time in a new environment.

The activities at last year’s colony were aimed at teaching students how to assist children with disabilities enrolled in the regular schools, while this year’s activities were aimed at promoting the artistic abilities of participants.

“Our primary goal is to improve social inclusion for people with disabilities, but in the process we are also raising awareness at a local and national level,” Kolodezni explained.

They regularly update the community on the positive outcomes of their inclusive activities.

“We’ve published several pamphlets on the topic and we are looking forward to the exhibit where we will showcase the artwork created by this summer’s colony participants,” she added.

We should help people with disabilities become successful and respected members of our society

People with disabilities live all around us, Kolodezni said, and we should help them become successful and respected members of our society.

“We will continue our work by organizing projects and events to raise awareness,” Kolodezni concluded.

Kolodezni and her colleagues call on all citizens to contribute to improving social inclusion for people with disabilities.

Antoanela Dimitrievska

Tr. by Monika Mihajlovska

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