A two-pronged World ORT project supporting therapeutic and employment services for disabled people in Montenegro is taking shape.
A 25-bed capacity lodge specially adapted to the needs of young people with disabilities is well on the way to completion just months after ground was broken on the isolated site in the Durmitor national park in the north of the Balkan state.
Over the next summer it could be hosting as many as 160 disabled youth for therapeutic horse riding holidays “ﾓ up from a mere 15 at present. The centre will cater for people with 25 types of disability including cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome and multiple sclerosis. Local mayor Dr Filip Vukovic said of the USAID-funded project implemented by ORT’s International Cooperation Department (ORT IC) in partnership with local disability group Koraci: “This is a good example of an NGO working on a project that benefits the whole community. This facility is not only going to help the citizens of Pljevlja, but also the citizens of Montenegro at large, and indeed the whole region.”
The US Ambassador to Montenegro, Rod Moore, said the $60,000 invested in the Persons with Disabilities Initiative (PWDI) was part of his country’s commitment to supporting the principles outlined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
“All too often, as we all know, persons with disabilities in Montenegro struggle to have the same type of access to the range of social, leisure, and economic opportunities as able-bodied persons “ﾓ therefore, with this project, we aim to give disabled persons and in particular disabled children improved access to therapeutic horse-riding and other types of leisure activities that have been designed specifically to meet their needs,” Ambassador Moore said.
For disabled youth who have largely been kept out of society, the opportunity to touch, ride, and learn to care for horses can have an extraordinary effect on their self-confidence, emotional well being, and sense of independence.
Shame and ignorance, particularly in rural areas, prompt some families to keep their disabled children hidden from society and the riding centre provides a rare opportunity for many disabled youth to meet other children and adults with similar problems to theirs.
But Anis Sljuka, whose family has worked for six years building basic facilities at the site and buying and training horses, said that a disability was only as big as society made it.
“No person with disabilities who comes to us will feel neglected or sidelined because of their restricted freedom of movement,” he said.
The other element of ORT IC’s support for disabled people in the country, for which it received the maximum available $300,000 grant from USAID, is working with the Association of Paraplegics of Montenegro (APM) to set up a labour exchange matching disabled people with employers.
This part of the PWDI aims at the practical application of legislation, passed in 2008, which requires businesses with more than 50 employees to have disabled people make up a percentage of the total workforce or else pay money to the government.
“The problem is that businesses are ignorant of what the law means and the government doesn’t know how to enforce it,”? said Claire O’Riordan, ORT IC’s Chief of Party in Montenegro. “With our support, the Association is assessing the needs of employers and job seekers with disabilities and has employed a lawyer to provide legal advice for people with disabilities as well as setting up a database which acts as a matchmaker between its client group and employers.”?
Implementation is a painstaking process of personal interviews. Individuals requiring assistance need to be assessed as to their interests and capabilities and owners of small businesses must be informed on the financial and legal benefits of employing people with disabilities “ﾓ as well as gathering detailed information on firms’ employment needs and opportunities and raising their awareness of the roles which people with disabilities can successfully fill.
“It’s an unavoidably slow process,” Ms O’Riordan said. “However, APM employment officers have visited 134 firms and personally interviewed 83 business managers so far. They have also interviewed 67 disabled job seekers, most of them women; of these nine were in a position to be given assistance and two of them started work this month. The on-line labour exchange has attracted job vacancy announcements from three firms so far.”
The lawyer engaged by APM has provided more than 100 hours of advice and assistance so far, including the writing of letters to firms to ensure that clients’ rights are respected, the writing of applications for financial assistance, and the writing of complaints in cases of discrimination.
The APM is also preparing a publicity campaign to inform and educate 6,000 small businesses about the new law. The need for such a campaign was highlighted recently when it was discovered that a company was employing a disabled person but only in an unofficial capacity, Ms O’Riordan said.
“The company was unaware that it could claim financial benefits from the state for employing this person,” she said. “Once they knew about the law they registered the person as an official, full-time employee.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of ORT IC during which time it has implemented more than 350 projects in nearly 100 countries at the request of international agencies, national governments, local communities and private companies. ORT IC has earned a reputation for excellence in providing technical assistance, training and capacity building services in a wide variety of sectors including technical and vocational education and training, health and nutrition, mother and child care, agriculture and rural development, good governance, and transportation.