“Look, look! I’ve finished this,” proudly says 7 year-old Tamir after completing a coloured puzzle game in a newly-established learning and recreational centre at a local school in Rinchilhumbe soum, Mongolia. He is an outgoing, bright child who lives in one of the coldest places in the world, where the temperature stays around -40°C during the winter.
When dawn breaks and fog settles over the school yard, wood-burning stoves are lit to heat classrooms. Tamir is dubbed as the ‘friendliest’ in his class but his teacher, Ms. Otgonbayar, stressed the importance of his need for individual, close attention which she cannot provide by herself. This is because Tamir suffers from epilepsy, a chronic neurological disorder marked by episodes of sensory disturbance and loss of consciousness.
During exams and some classes, he would start to shake his head uncontrollably. “When that happens, I often get worried because I don’t know what to do,” explains Ms. Otgonbayar.
This small community in the northernmost province along the border of Mongolia and Russia is located some 1000 kilometers away from the capital city, Ulaanbaatar. Thus, it is harder for basic social services, and special education teachers and professionals to reach those in need.
Committed to including all children
Fortunately for hundreds of children like Tamir, UNICEF Mongolia in cooperation with the Mongolian Government and partners has established a learning and recreational centre where children with disabilities, living in the furthest regions of Mongolia, can access education and be given the opportunity to unfold their potentials. This initiative is funded by the Swedish National Committee for UNICEF, benefitting over 300 children with disabilities and disadvantages in some of the most far-flung, remote areas of the country.
Tamir lives with his grandparents in a small “ger”, a traditional Mongolian housing in the soum center during the school terms while his parents and older brother live in the countryside to herd their animals.
His grandparents further explained that Tamir seemed to have more frequent episodes of seizures at night when he is pressured to do more at school or in panic mode. “We observed that when he visits the centre, he always comes home happy,” adds Mrs. Ser-Od, Tamir’s grandmother.
When asked about his favorite daily routine, Tamir cheerfully answered, “studying and playing at the center with my friends.”
Mrs. Tsetsegmaa, a teacher in charge of the learning and recreational centre at the local school established with UNICEF Mongolia’s support, noted the importance of such initiatives. “Tamir would have been one of the drop-outs if not for his grandparents’ commitment for their grandchild’s education and the opening of this new facility,” she said.
While Mongolia has near universal primary education enrolment, there are around 30,000 children who are out-of-school. UNICEF is supporting the creation of an inclusive education system in Mongolia where all children, including children with disabilities and other disadvantaged out-of-school children, receive meaningful learning opportunities.
Children with disabilities can thrive and fully unfold their potentials in an inclusive classroom setting by adopting helping every children with initiatives like the learning and recreational centres. It takes all relevant stakeholders – from Government to NGOs to communities to families – to work together to build a more inclusive society for every child.
This story was originally published on www.unicefmongolia.blogspot.com