On 21 March 2018 in Yerevan, Armenia, Sargis, a ten-year-old boy with Down syndrome decided to break the country’s norms and wear a waiter’s apron to help a bakery sell some of their goods as part of a region-wide campaign that Save the Children organised. Sargis checked the orders carefully along with other children who were present with their parents. 

Supporters and customers came over to join this awareness activity and to interact with children, parents and the Save the Children team members to learn more about children with disabilities and how they can enable them to be integrated within the community and in early education. According to Save the Children in Armenia, around 83.7% of children with disabilities in urban areas and 92.4% in rural areas are not accessing any type of pre-school education. It was an amazing day full of good vibes and everybody in the café was smiling happily especially Sargis & his mother.

This is just one reflection out of many that took place across five Save the Children country offices. “Yes, Children Can!” is a region-wide campaign that was initiated in late November 2017, as part of Save the Children’s global campaign, Every Last Child. This regional campaign is aiming to improve public attitudes towards children with disabilities. Under the slogan “Know me for my abilities!” the five participating countries - Albania, Armenia, Georgia, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina (North-West Balkans) have organised more than twenty activities, all targeting the negative aspects of public stereotypes and misconceptions towards children with disabilities.

On March 21, World Down Syndrome Day, Save the Children in Albania launched an awareness raising campaign in their Community Based Centers for children with disabilities, in Vlora and Durres which later expanded to 3 other schools in these communities. According to the Situation Analysis conducted by Save the Children in Albania in 2016, only 10.4% of the total number of children with disabilities are receiving services in residential, day care and community centers. This is why the centers opened their doors for students, parents, educators, health specialists and teachers for open days and information sessions to discuss the early identification of children with disabilities in order to increase public awareness on the importance of equal treatment and behaviors that eliminate discriminatory attitudes towards them.

In Armenia we initiated a series of activities. One of them was a nation-wide media competition under the title “Sharing the same sun”. Journalists from all over the country submitted their pieces illustrating good stories and examples from children with disabilities in order to raise awareness and enhance public attitudes toward them.

Save the Children’s team in Georgia started the week with an inclusive visit from Anika Day Care Center to Fabrika (a multifunctional space with various inclusive urban cafes, art and creative-educational studios). The children took part in raising awareness about epilepsy on March 26th through a video that combined the opinions of both children and parents about their hopes, dreams and ambitions.

An inspirational reading session took place in Kosovo organised by Save the Children on March 21st. This activity was later followed by a multi-stakeholder meeting to address the situation of children with disabilities attending schools. The week was concluded with dozens of people joining an awareness-raising march in Prishtina’s city center, declaring that “I have my own world, which is open to you too” to emphasize on the equal rights of children with disabilities and their rights to have an equal early education.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina (North-West Balkans), Save the Children organised a full day event on March 21st at their Community Based Centers in both Bihac and Cazin, with a variety of creative sessions including lectures and art workshops, followed by video projections & reading stories – all emphasizing that children with disabilities are equal and independent members of society and that they should live in a friendly public environment

The week of action is only the start of a whole year of campaigning that aims to remove barriers faced by the most vulnerable children in the community, children with disabilities, to ensure they survive, learn and are protected.