18 December 2015

Books on the move: reaching children with disabilities

Ochiroo with his younger sister outside his home
@UNICEF/2015/Enkhzul Altangerel

“This is a dog, and that one is a cat!” says 4-year-old Ochiroo, turning pages of a children’s book about animals. Ochiroo loves to read children’s books with his mother. He has learned many new words from the books, including names of animals and objects in the past few months. Learning is a special activity for Ochiroo, as he has not been able to attend kindergarten due to hip dysplasia, which made it very difficult for him to walk.

Ochiroo lives in a small ger with his mother and two siblings, in Nalaikh district, an outskirt area of Ulaanbaatar city capital. His mother Uranzaya stays at home to look after his 1-year-old sister Urangoo. His father is an army officer who is now in Sudan  on a peacekeeping mission.

Born with hip dysplasia, he stays at home most of the time with almost no interaction with outside world.

Ochiroo reads a book with his mother
@UNICEF/2015/Enkhzul Altangerel
“My son started talking quite late compared to other children. That’s why I was worried that he might have other problems besides his legs. But when I started reading him books and teaching him new words, his communication skills have improved significantly in a short period of time” his mother Uranzaya explains enthusiastically.

The family was introduced to the mobile library project run by the local Family and Child Development Centre. Uranzaya first rented a book at the suggestion of a social worker from the center. Without expecting much she started reading the book to Ochiroo. To her surprise, he liked it so much that they rented more books. Even Uranzaya took a book for herself to read which was “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”.

“We don’t have any books to read at home, so I am very thankful for mobile library for providing us this opportunity. I think mobile library is very helpful for children who stay at home. Books help them develop communication skills” added Uranzaya.

Mobile libraries: More than just books

There are 198 children with disabilities in Nalaikh who have limited access to basic social services, social and community life. Less than half of those children attend pre-school or basic education. Most of them stay at home in the care of their parents or older siblings.

Due to inaccessible roads, walkways, buildings and facilities, it is very difficult for children with disabilities and their families to leave their home, to access social services and participate fully in the community life. The educational, social welfare and health services provide limited outreach activities to assist these families.

“Reading a book helps children develop their language and communication skills.  That’s whywe initiated the mobile library project as a new way to reach children and support their development” says social worker Gantuya from the Child and Family Development Centre.

Social worker Gantuya (on the right) in front of the mobile library
@UNICEF/2015/Enkhzul Altangerel
The Child and Family Development Centre (CFDC) of Nalaikh district has analyzed the situation of children with disabilities and initiated number of initiatives to foster their inclusion  in the community and empower their parents. The mobile library is one of outreach services that will enable CFDC staff to regularly visit families and children with disabilities, especially those with limited mobility.

Gantuya added “We made schedules to visit all the families who have children with disabilities in our district. During scheduled visits, we conduct trainings for parents on how to read books to their children, as well as to play with them and other parenting skills. Overall, parents responded positively  to our mobile library”.

The library does not only provide books, but also toy renting service for neighborhood children and children with disabilities as well, meeting the need of children with different abilities.

More needs to be done

There are about 32,000 children with disabilities in Mongolia. They have the same rights as other children – to an education, health care, protection and survival. However, they need extra support to achieve these rights.

“Mobile library is a form of outreach service to the most vulnerable children, including children with disabilities. During home visits, social workers encourage parent-child interactions through the use of books and toys, thus supporting child language and socio-emotional skills. The dialogue between social workers and parents helps them feel less isolated and promotes inclusion of children with disabilities in community services” says Mandal Urtnasan, Community development specialist at UNICEF Mongolia.

Greater commitment to children with disabilities will help break down barriers and ensure their full inclusion in society. Small initiatives at community level such as mobile library  can ensure that Ochiroo and many other children like him  have the opportunity to reach their potential and make their contribution to the society.

Enkhzul Altangerel, Digital Communications Consultant at UNICEF Mongolia

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