The Karelian Research Centre at the Russian Academy of Sciences is a new partner in SEMPRE Accelerators and - unlike the other partners - does not have the experiences from the predecessor project SEMPRE. Therefore, the main role the Karelian Reseach Centre in SEMPRE Accelerators is to test the empowerment tools of SEMPRE (see Empowerment Handbook) in the Russian context. After a first testing workshop in Petrozavodsk in 2020, the partners now visited Kaliningrad to test the Empowerment tools in this region as well.
On 21 and 22 April, the SEMPRE Accelerators project managers and facilitators from the Karelian Research Centre, together with representatives from two local NGOs with whom they have a long-standing cooperation (and who already participated in the first workshop) visited four projects in Kaliningrad for mutual exchange about empowerment and the SEMPRE Empowerment tools:
SEMPRE participants met employees of the Simple Things workshops Anna Gorbunova and Gyunai Khalilova, and learned about the organization’s activities and the experience of tutored employment, the setups for the work of people with mental disabilities, the challenges in the inclusion of people with special needs. During the visit, SEMPRE participants were given advice on working with third parties, on arrangements for special-needs employees, on fund-raising principles and practices.
Lyudmila Vysotskaya’s amber workshop
The workshop leader, amber artist Lyudmila Vysotskaya has authored a methodology for instructing people with partial or total loss of vision in amber processing. The workshop’s first project “Seeing with hands” was targeted at vision-impaired children. At the moment, the workshop is working on a new project “Inclusive amber mosaic”, in which children with musculoskeletal disorders, hearing and vision impairments, and mental disorders will create art pieces of amber, modeling clay, and resin. The project has produced a special program that helps children with and without disorders to communicate while creating amber art. The project “Inclusive amber mosaic” was supported by the Presidential Grants Foundation.
On their visit to the workshop, SEMPRE participants took part in a master class on creating amber and modeling clay art, learned to polish amber. While creating art pieces, Lyudmila Vysotskaya shared expertise with special-needs children, emphasizing that people with various disorders, namely with vision impairments, needs to acquire the understanding and confidence that they can also produce something valuable.
Children and adults can exhibit the items made in the workshop in professional exhibitions and sell them, thus getting extra income and becoming less dependent on family and mentors.
Kaliningrad Regional NGO for children and youth with disabilities Maria
Maria NGO was founded in 1998 by Zoya Kochetkova, who became the leader for several families with children and adults diagnosed with mental disorders, Down syndrome, autistic disorders. Maria NGO currently accommodates 55 people with different mental disorders. Many of the center’s highly qualified staff are parents of the wards. There are day-care groups for special-needs people older than 12, and a development group for 2+ children with disabilities. The wards attend classes in decoupage, pelting, folk crafts, glass painting, molding, drawing, drama. One of the projects implemented by Maria NGO was the Danko drama studio, which has participated and won in many international, national, regional, and city festivals.
Maria NGO is actively involved in many projects financed by the Presidential Grants Foundation, Kaliningrad Region Ministry of Domestic Policy, Social Policy Committee of the Kaliningrad City Administration, Kaliningrad Region Ministry of Social Policy, etc. Grant funding and financial support from local authorities have enabled Maria NGO to start a speech art therapy module, which combines art therapy, speech therapy, defectology, and audio-sensory stimulation. There also continue to operate an adaptive development art studio and a music and drama adaptive development studio.
On their visit to Maria NGO, SEMPRE participants were given a tour of the center. Zoya Kochetkova took the project participants to classes in right-brain painting, speech therapy and defectology rooms, music room, cooking classroom.
The organization has lately been working to promote the methods of assisted living, to enable their wards to live on their own, without help from adults. By now, some of the wards manage to use public transport alone, pay housing fees, cook, and clean.
OBSERVER Factory LLP is a unique investment project run by the organization for persons with disabilities Kovcheg (The Ark), with the full title “Establishment of a new import-replacing production facility “Factory of assistive technology for persons with special needs””. The aim is to manufacture assistive technology (wheelchairs and ramps) for persons with disabilities in Russia and countries of the Customs Union. The project creates jobs for people with health impairments. A cottage village is being built near the factory to accommodate such employees. There is also a plan to open a rehabilitation center for wheelchair users in the premises.
The tour of the wheelchair factory was guided by Olga Panina, international project leader at Kovcheg NGO. Участникам проекта SEMPRE participants were taken to the factory shops and introduced to the working environment of employees with disabilities. Olga Panina also shared their experience of working with persons with musculoskeletal disorders and plans for developing the in-factory space for persons with disabilities, including the rehabilitation center and assisted living homes. During the excursion, Sergey Shuvalainen tried out an electric wheelchair.