The stigma of having a child with a disability (and the financial burden) leads to parents feeling shame and fearing public opinion. Often children will be "hidden" away - maybe at home or in worse cases placing them into special boarding institutions. It is also not uncommon for fathers to abandon their wives if they chose to keep a child with disabilities, leaving the mother alone to cope with the challenges of raising a disabled child at home.

Fun in Belarus park

Hospital staff will still today suggest to parents to abandon a child born with disabilities and place it in a state care institution.

Unable to cope, some mothers have committed suicide. A solution was needed to their problems of caring for their disabled children. 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. Children under the age of 18 can attend well run state centres for those living with disabilities, however, upon reaching 18 there is nowhere for these vulnerable young people to go. 

Isle of Hope is open weekdays allowing parents to hold employment and support their families, thus enabling them to keep their child at home. It is one of the foremost day centres in the region for young people with learning difficulties. However, local funding is extremely limited and ChildAid provides virtually all of the financial needs of the Centre.

Irina, by the age of two, found herself abandoned by her father. Whilst Irina’s mother luckily stuck by her, the Belarusian education system also deserted her. Due to her minor learning disabilities she was instead placed into a state Internat, where sadly she became withdrawn, uncommunicative and utterly alone.

Her mother spotted this decline and sent her to Isle of Hope, which lived up to its name by providing much-needed hope.  There she could communicate with people similar to her and realise that she was not alone. Now no longer the withdrawn individual she arrived at Isle of Hope as, she is known by everyone there as a friendly, smiling, vivacious and talkative teenager.

She fills her days with her favourite activities which include drawing, playing with puzzles, music classes, gymnastic and art and crafts such as rag mat making. Such activities have been tailored by the staff to help educate her in basic life skills, including how to wash, in an attempt to compensate for the education she has missed. She also can often be found dressing up in front of a mirror, no longer hiding from the world, but rather wanting to be seen by others. Irina is especially excited about the trips the Isle of Hope staff arrange to local parks and rivers, as she loves to get out and see the world.

Her mother is overwhelmed by the dramatic changes she has seen in her daughter. Without the worthwhile work of Isle of Hope such children as Irina would still feel alone.

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