Isle of Hope provides free therapeutic rehabilitative services and day care aimed at providing increased independence for 57 young people living with severe learning difficulties.
Whilst those under the age of 18 are able to receive State care within the educational system this does not prepare them for independent living, and beyond 18 there is only a meagre State benefit provided. In September 2015 Belarus signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This is a substantive move from the position where young people with disabilities formed one of the most marginalised and deprived groups in Belarus. For generations, they were regarded as "mistakes" or “punishment for family sins” and locked up in institutions.
However, it is still common for fathers to abandon their wives if they chose to keep a child with disabilities, leaving her alone to cope with the challenges of raising a disabled child at home. Having to provide constant care for their children, these mothers cannot earn enough money to support themselves, and so remain trapped in the poverty cycle. There is little or no support for parents choosing to keep their disabled child at home, leaving the parents little choice but to leave their child at an institution.
Isle of Hope was founded in 1996 by a group of desperate parents, mainly single mothers. They needed to create a solution to their problems of caring for their disabled children. Sadly, a number of suicides of mothers unable to cope triggered others to open the centre.
The centre is open weekdays allowing parents to hold employment and support their families.
There is always a waiting list, as many as a 100 young people whose parents would like them to be able to take advantage of such services. Isle of Hope is an example of best practice for work with young people with mental disabilities in the region. It has already increased its capacity from 45 to 55, but has no more capacity. It can only be hoped that government can be encouraged to adopt this model for many other young people and their parents.
There is a desperate need for local funding, but so very hard to achieve at this time.
As one mother puts it:
Everyone looked at us as a hopeless case, as a burden. I knocked on every door for help, but only one opened, thankfully the most necessary. I thank God for it. I am very happy, my daughter is very happy. Our broken down family is back together. My daughter shows clear progress.
I thank God, I thank all those who took part in the fate of my family. We are happy as much as you can be with such a problem in our country
Tanya has shown clear progress since joining Isle of Hope. She has learnt a lot, can look after her own hygiene now. She has also begun to paint. She loves going to “her” Isle of Hope everyday where she has friends and leads a full life.
Isle of Hope assess the young person's abilities and establishes ways to stimulate and encourage their full potential to be reached within the limits of their disability. Many of the young people are volatile and can become easily distressed at the slightest alteration to their surroundings or routine. Isle of Hope provide a calming, structured environment which provides relaxation and support.
Life skills training offers a chance of some degree of personal independence (once very few could go to the toilet unaided: now all can). Each young person is also encouraged to undertake light domestic skills such as cleaning, gardening or sweeping.
An activity the young people are excited to get involved in also raises a little bit of local funding. Each day a group go out and collect waste paper and plastic from the streets. The fruits of their exercise are then sold to a local recycling company.
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