The Strength of Partnership: Bringing opportunity to Children with Disabilities in Moldova

By James Spiers
Nov. 6, 2019

What if we taught children with disabilities in Moldova how to be young entrepreneurs? We could teach them skills that would allow them to be financially independent or, at the very least, ease the burden of home-care on their families. But how?

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Valeria with her embroidered flower preparing for the showcase

The answer is with partners. My partner and I began our project idea by asking ourselves a simple question, “how can we help the children with disabilities at the Phoenix Center?” We decided that our best way forward was to engage our community by involving them in the brainstorming process. We began by hosting interviews with the children and their families, where we learned that they saw no future for themselves. Believing that obtaining a career was impossible and viewing their future as limited, they saw their only role as being a burden to their families. When the children eventually age out of the center, they return home where they need to be looked after by their parents or grandparents. In most cases, their disabilities prevent them from working the fields or around the home. They yearned for opportunity and acceptance into their communities. Together we decided that the best way forward was to teach them vocational skills that would allow them to generate income independently. We facilitated a survey within our community and asked what skills we should focus on first. We learned that one of the teachers from the Professional School taught an embroidery class and was willing to help teach the children. Another popular idea from the survey was to teach computer and technology skills.

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Costea and Dașa, beneficiaries of the Phoenix Center, with their handcrafted pillows that state “I heart Moldova”.

We decided to move forward with these two ideas but we needed to identify what resources were available to us. One of our partners from the UK was able to obtain and deliver a Merchandise Printing system where the children could create designs to go on t-shirts, cups, hats, etc. For the embroidery portion of the project we needed to secure funding in order to purchase a specialized machine that the children could use with their disabilities. Instead of needing to thread the machine by hand and manually guide their designs, an advanced machine would thread itself and designs could be generated with the click of a button. We turned to the Peace Corps grant program to turn this idea into a reality. My partner and I spent weeks gathering feedback, forecasting costs, and meeting with local partners. In the end, our project idea was approved and we got to work.

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Prime minister of Moldova, Maia Sandu, with beneficiaries of the center while showcasing their accomplishments.

Our first step was to bring the children, their families, youth volunteers, community members, and our staff into the project planning process. Together we created a detailed plan for our project and assigned responsibilities. The parents would help the children continue their studies at home. The community would invite the children to share their success to the community and market our program at various community events. Our staff would continue the trainings after the workshops ended. Shortly after our meeting we began our first 10-day workshop on embroidery training. The children embraced the training even better than expected. They watched as the machine put their ideas to fabric. What they created on the computer was being made in front of their eyes. By the end of the first workshop we trained 21 children and created various pillows, belts, and pouches. The program was a success and we were just halfway through. Word of the children’s work spread across the country and we were asked to participate in the National Diaspora Days in Chișinău, the capital of Moldova, where the children met with the Prime Minister and other government officials to showcase what they learned. After this event, we participated in another Diaspora celebration in a town where many of the children live.

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Pillows created by beneficiaries, “I love Mihăileni”, “I heart Moldova”, and “Made with love for home”.

At the moment, we are halfway done with our project. In the coming weeks we will begin the next 10-day workshop on Merchandise and Technology training. Our staff and local youth will help facilitate this workshop and see the continuation of these trainings in the future to ensure its sustainability. The success of this project is dependent on the strength of our partnerships. Without the support of our Professional School and funding from the Peace Corps, we could not have taught the children how to use an all-inclusive embroidery machine. Without the help of our local community members and organization we would not have had the support to sustain the program. Without the support of our UK partners and the Peace Corps grant, we would not have had the necessary machines to train on. This project is a total team effort that stretches across the globe. Together we have given the children the opportunity they wanted and we are not done yet.

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A beneficiary sewing using a specialized machine that automatically threads itself and creates designs with the click of a button, rather than the conventional sewing machine which must be threaded by hand and manually guided..
James Spiers headshot