Armenia lies in the Caucasus and at 29,800 square kilometres is the smallest of the former Soviet republics. A third of the three million Armenians lives in the capital, another seven million live in the diaspora outside Armenia, many of them in the USA. Ninety percent of the territory lies higher than 1000 metres above sea level. The region is severely affected by earthquakes. In 1988, 25,000 people fell victim to an earthquake according to official figures and an estimated one million became homeless. The economic situation is very difficult and unemployment lies at about thirty percent. The high rate of emigration abroad among young people has a negative effect on development. Hardly any other country is as financially dependent on money transferred home by its citizens living abroad as Armenia.
There are no reliable statistics about the share of the population which comprises people with disabilities. Estimates say there are about 10,000 children with disabilities in the country. Shame causes many parents hide their children with disabilities and keep them out of the public eye. Once schooling ends with class nine there is no further provision or support. The children affected live with their families, in orphanages or on the street.
The situation in state institutions is mostly intolerable. Pressure from international organisations has, however, led to some change starting. Although Armenia signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at the end of 2010, it has hardly begun with implementing it. There are still strong social prejudices against people with disabilities.
Integration from the outset
In the capital Yerevan, the only Waldorf school in Armenia is housed in a state building. It was established in the city centre in 1994 and currently has 300 pupils. It practised inclusion from the outset. So far up to two children with special needs have been integrated into the existing school classes. They receive individual support alongside regular lessons.
In order to meet the increasing demand, the school started looking for new opportunities of support. Teachers and parents undertook advanced training abroad and established the “Mayri” association in order to be able to realise new projects. The association has set itself the goal to offer relief and help through adequate provision. In this way the idea came about to establish a day centre working on the basis of Waldorf education.
With the help of foundations in the Netherlands it bought and renovated an earthquake-proof building near the centre. In the past year, the Friends of Waldorf Education received a promise of funding from the German ministry of economic cooperation and development which made it possible to equip six workshop rooms. They were inaugurated in April 2014. In the course of the coming years up to 50 children and young people will be able to use the centre and its range of opportunities. The building is in the middle of a residential area and is trying to establish good relationships with its neighbours.
Intensive public relations work, integrative theatre performances, concerts, internships, the sale of products and helping in the neighbourhood are intended to support greater contact. The aim is to counter exclusion and discrimination at an early stage. The centre has set itself the task to ensure that in Armenia the dignity of people with disabilities is respected. This initial impulse has a model function and it is hoped that it will introduce a change of awareness in the country.
About the author: Thomas Kraus is on the staff of the Friends of Waldorf Education and is responsible for the field of special needs education and social therapy.