The most important point, before I discuss the day, is to tell you today is a holiday in Kazakhstan. Today is Constitution Day! The day Kazakhstan adopted the Constitution as an independent country. I thought it was so amazing that Mary and I were here today and even more special is the name of the holiday—Constitution Day!
After breakfast, we were off to a meeting with the Head of the Department of Labor and Social Protection of Pavlodar, the person who heads work supports for people with disabilities in Pavlodar. This was a great meeting! We spent two hours over coffee, talking about how we could create a partnership with U.S.- based companies in Pavlodar, to increase the employment of people with disabilities. We talked about a database of undergraduate students and adults with an undergraduate degree that is available to partnership participants. I also talked about the need to ensure access to buildings and transportation for people with disabilities. The department head asked me to get back to her and tell her specifically what actions they could take to get prepared. I am very excited about this, because it is an example of the great work the U.S. State Department, through the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan is providing that will impact the world on the employment of people with disabilities.
Once the meeting was finished, we went to lunch with the founders of Affordable Pavlodar aimed at improving the infrastructure. It is remarkable that after only leaving the U.S.S.R. in 1991, they are so determined to include people with disabilities in employment. They know that to be inclusive it requires access. The main impression for me, is that there is such a desire to move forward by people with disabilities in Kazakhstan.
We then visited Samal, a rehabilitation center for people with intellectual disabilities. I am always overwhelmed by the love shown to us on these visits. Children who are living with Down Syndrome are children with Down Syndrome anywhere in the world. The center is focused on teaching the participants how to take care of themselves, lead independent lives and develop social skills. They teach them cooking and administrative skills, like working as a greeter and working on tasks. I like the fact that they work on teaching them to make their own decisions. They are also learning baking. This specific NGO was named number three in Kazakhstan for excellence. The center is well organized and every one of the participants have a role. The most important thing they do is work on getting jobs for the participants and three out of the thirty-five engaged participants have gained employment; that is what it is all about!
The next visit was unbelievable! We visited an art and theatre center for children with disabilities. The director wanted me to see a play that included children with disabilities and some without. They had videotaped a prior live performance, and we saw it on a large screen. It was fantastic, and the theme was remarkable—get ready—De-Nuclearization and Ecology. The children danced wearing outfits they made; in the part about ecology, one person was fire, one was the sun and one was wind. Then, they portrayed soldiers and killing. This is an NGO that does not have a lot of money and produced this fantastic and inclusive play!
The night ended with dinner with Veniamin, Kanat, Lukerya and a Phd and alumni of the ADA program, Ayna. She is a professor and is working hard to encourage her students with disabilities and let them realize how much they have to offer. She is also working to get the University to endorse digital accessibility. Her sister has a son with autism who is non-verbal; that close relationship always fuels the fire. I enjoyed meeting Ayna and hearing more about her work with the University.