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Home: Freunde Waldorf

Hope for Disabled Children in Kyrgyzstan

(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 128-129, Note the Copyright!)

Situated in the central Asian part of the CIS on the border with China, Kyrgyzstan is facing radical changes both internally and externally now that the Soviet Union has disintegrated. One is faced daily with new circumstances which may involve both opportunities and dangers. People are keen to get what they can from every situation and, as ever, the sick and the weak come last.

What’s needed is tolerance

The Children’s Rehabilitation Centre Ümüt-Nadyezhda was founded by Karla-Maria Schälike in the autumn of 1989 while the Soviet Union still existed and Kyrgyzstan was still a part of that gigantic federation. Then as now what all the work with these children rests on is the special mentality, the culture and tradition of the peoples who live in Kyrgyzstan. Eighty different ethnic groups inhabit this relatively small land. Each has its own language, culture and traditions. So tolerance towards those who are different from oneself is an every-day matter here. Nevertheless, tolerance does not exclude phenomena such as nationalism or chauvinism.

Public interest in Waldorf Education was roused in Kyrgyzstan by the schoolwork of children who had been helped by adults to develop their individuality and their potential in face of all the difficulties fate had decreed for them. Children are not interested in the designations adults have for the kind of education they practise. The important thing for them is that they are given whatever they need to help them develop their personality not at some future time but here and now.

Nadyezhda, that tiny glimmer of hope for disabled children

Nadyezhda Centre means Centre of Hope, the first tiny glimmer of hope for children with multiple disabilities, for until now disability has meant hopelessness in Kyrgyzstan. That is why many mothers handed their disabled children over to the Communist state at birth. The public at large knew nothing of what became of these “children of the state” thereafter, and people looked askance at any mother who kept her child with her.

Born of a desperate situation

When Karla-Maria Schälike’s son was born another boy also came into the world in the bed next to her’s. That baby’s mother was weeping bitterly and hiding her head under the bedclothes. Around her stood doctors berating her and demanding something of her. Karla-Maria, a foreigner living in Kyrgyzstan, wanted to know what was going on. To her horror and astonishment pressure was being put on the woman in the next bed to sign away her newborn baby merely because he was disabled. That mother, however, had the courage to refuse what was expected of her. Later on Karla-Maria Schälike heard all about the terrible fate that awaited both the parents and a disabled child.

After long and difficult preparations and with the help of a Soviet fund for children the Centre for the Protection of Childhood and Motherhood was founded on 17 September 1989. All 28 members of staff worked without pay. Children with severe disabilities were to come here so that they could play and learn just like all children. From its foundation, this endeavour was supported to the best of her ability by Otunbaeva, the president of the Soviet UN Commission. With her assistance the Nadyezhda Centre became a member of the UNESCO project school programme. The Kyrgyz writer Chingiz Aitmatov was persuaded to become Nadyezhda’s honorary president. He agreed to support this initiative out of love for his country.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union the Nadyezhda Centre was removed from the state fund for children on 17 September 1992 and registered by the Ministry for Justice as an independent children’s organization with the status of a charitable association of the Kyrgyz Republic. In the same year the school authorities declared that all children who had been assessed as being ineducable no longer had any right to be taught in state establishments and buildings. After a desperate battle for the rights of these children most of the parents and children were forced to leave the building they had so lovingly renovated with the help of donations. The situation seemed hopeless not least because once the Soviet Union had collapsed the fate of many healthy children was also in jeopardy as far as food, clothing, education and health care went. In this hopeless situation a “knight in shining armour” appeared and offered to set up a donor association in Germany for the Nadyezhda Centre.

Things are looking up thanks to international support

In 1995 the Centre was given a plot of land and a small workshop building by the Fondation Danielle Mitterand. A new school building was put up on that plot in 1997/99. This came about through the mediation of the Friends of Waldorf Education in connection with a project promoted by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. As a part of that project a school bus was acquired and the teachers received training in Waldorf and curative education. Finally, in the year 2000, the school building was enlarged with support from UNICEF.

The turning point - an exhibition on Steiner Waldorf Education

Over the years the disabled children have been joined by more and more children of co-workers and also street children so that a small integrated school has arisen side by side with the Nadyezhda Centre’s other facilities.

As yet Waldorf Education is little known in Kyrgyzstan. But it met with a positive reaction during the first large exhibition on the work which was mounted at the education centre run by the President’s wife, Mairam Akayeva who, despite being very short of time, spent almost an hour being shown round and having the basic principles of Waldorf Education explained to her. In an article in the “Bishkek Evening News” she then described the methods of the Nadyezhda Centre as follows: “I hope that many inhabitants of Bishkek have kept memories of the unusual exhibition by the pupils of the Nadyezhda Children’s Centre at the Education Museum fresh in their minds. The experiences shown can give us hope that when a genuine education is sought many children with all kinds of health problems can be integrated in society … Gratitude is owed to the ‘hope bringers’ of the Nadyezhda Centre.”


Igor Iljitsch Schälike
Director of the children’s rehabilitation centre Ümüt-Nadyezhda.