Fidanjik, a partner organization of Miras-Moldova, organized a small spectacle to celebrate the country’s “Day of Invalids.” I attended with my Peace Corps friend Ray, my two European Voluntary Service (EVS) volunteer friends, and another former French EVS volunteer who had worked with the Center.
Fidanjik is a Rehabilitative Center for disabled youth located in the middle of Comrat. The organization was founded in 2001 with the assistance of the local government and supports children with both physical and mental disabilities through activities designed to develop life skills. Services include interactive play, literacy classes, cultural activities, sports activities, exercises in motor skills, a focus on personal hygiene and meetings with the Center’s psychologist. EVS volunteers from Miras Moldova work with the children three or four times per week, assisting with the above activities. They have also organized field trips outside of Comrat and performed humorous skits for the children.
To see a project initiated by one of our past EVS volunteers (Miras took the Fidanjik kids to the zoo), you can watch here: http://miras.md/new/e/index.php?newsid=194
Sometimes, I will join my friends at the Center. We might hang out in the back room and play with the kids (one of the boys loves to play “soldier,” and through him I’ve learned a new way to “die a thousand deaths”). Another time I arrived just at the end of a project – my friends had made playdough for an activity, and they were finishing up hand-cut and hand-painted Christmas ornaments.
For the “Day of Invalids” spectacle, we watched the Center’s psychologist, disguised as a clown, entertain the youth and their visiting parents. The clown, whose red nose slipped often to hover between her eyes, read script and played games with the children that demonstrated motor skills they had practiced during their daily sessions. A favorite exercise was a challenge for many of the youth: crumpling a full sheet of newspaper into a ball with only one fist.
The highlight of our time in Fidanjik was the “dance party” at the end. My French friend Rachel, whose primary EVS project is to work with the residents at Fidanjik, invited us PCVs to the “stage” (or rather, the middle of the wood-floored activity room at the heart of the Center). There, we danced with the kids to sloppy music (even a version of the “chicken dance” in Russian!).
Watch for the masterful spin at the end…
The reality for many of these youth, however, is that days like these are some of the only in the year when they are able to visit the Center – staff will send out invitations to youth, and adults, and families who are usually home-bound. Sometimes it’s financial, sometimes it’s because they “age out” of the system and sometimes it’s stigma: parents often don’t want to admit their children may need extra support for fear of social repercussions.
I recall a visit to another Peace Corps Volunteer’s site during our summer training. His primary project is capacity building in a rehabilitative center not unlike Fidanjik – and the volunteer spoke eloquently on the challenges some participating children face in their community. He recounted the story of one child with a learning disability whose father was unable to get past the label. The young girl could have benefited from the services at the center – but because of her father’s denial, perhaps fear or perhaps shame, she was not allowed to attend specialized classes. There was “nothing wrong with her.” And so she did not access the care that could propel her to grasp new skills for social integration.
Like anywhere in the world, we’re afraid of difference, and what it means when others have the opportunity to peer into the truth of our lives and evaluate this difference on their own terms – cultural or personal. In this culture, where community relations are close and gossip runs rampant, one family’s business may become everyone else’s business – and so I can imagine that there may be even more compulsion to hide.
However, in Moldova, it is becoming more common to work towards acceptance of disabled individuals, their presence in our communities and the ways which they give back. Students from Comrat’s pedagogical school, where many young people go to learn about social work, helped arrange a celebratory concert held in Comrat’s “Дом Культура” (House of Culture) that afternoon.
One of Fidanjik’s regular residents starred in his own one-man performance for the “Day of Invalids” community event. Like his earlier performance at Fidanjik’s “dance party,” the boy whipped it and stole our hearts with his Michael-Jackson-moves and the flicking and flaunting of his golden cap.
But the true thief was the older lad, now too old to regularly attend Fidanjik, who literally stole the end of the show. One of Gagauzia’s local celebrities, the Gagauz rapper-cum-artist-cum-sculptor-cum-teacher Vitalii Manjul, was the big name on the bill. As usual, he filled the stage with his presence and his crowd-pleasing jive. As he rapped into his microphone, he noticed a dark-haired, mop-headed guy approaching the stage (as did we all, and we cheered! A collaboration!). Manjul extended his hand, pulled the lad onstage, and with a giant handshake – the young man thrust Manjul behind him, out of his path and proceeded to raise-the-roof for the crowd. And Manjul bounced back, saving face with a surprised grin and a chuckle, finishing his performance as the new back-up singer.
If you’d like to see Manjul, who preserves the Gagauz culture and language through his music, check out one of his music videos here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6qLQYCOBYo