Borce Atanasovski stands patiently by his latest student as she practises her new skills on a sewing machine. He waits patiently as she makes mistakes. Only when she gets stuck does he finally intervene, explaining and gently guiding her hands back on track.
“He’s a natural teacher,” says Meri, another one of Borce’s sewing students. “He helps us have confidence in ourselves and learn at our own pace.”
Borce is teaching at a daycare centre for people with disabilities in Negotino, a Macedonian town. But his journey here hasn’t been easy. As a person with disabilities, Borce has had to overcome so much to achieve his own independence and earn his own living.
After his parents abandoned him as a baby, Borce spent the first five years of his life in a children’s home in Skopje. He was then transferred to Demir Kapija, an institution for people with intellectual disabilities.
The living conditions for residents of Demir Kapija, especially children, were very far from satisfactory. As in the case of many similar institutions for people with disabilities, little was done for their inclusion in society or preparation for their future independence.
Borce spent thirty-four years in such an environment, excluded from society, with no independence or means of enjoying the rights to which all citizens should be entitled.
Traditional large-scale institutions like Demir Kapija lack the capacity to adequately address social inclusion. It’s one of the key reasons UNDP supports efforts to transition the care of people with disabilities beyond institutions.
UNDP has for many years worked with the Macedonian government to develop measures to promote self-employment, providing tools for vulnerable groups to start up their own businesses. The encouragement has paid off - since 2015, 163 companies have been registered by people with disabilities
“The difference between my life today and the past - I cannot describe it,” says Borce. “What matters is I am working and living with people I love. And I can do what I want with the money I earn!”
For instance, Borce enjoys surprising his friends and sometimes treats his three housemates in Negotino with presents. “It makes them happy and then I feel happy too,” he says.
The four housemates are living independently and earning their incomes for the first time. UNDP has trained professional caregivers and piloted work-oriented rehabilitation for 23 persons living at the Banja Bansko institution, in addition to preparing transformation plans to improve currently deplorable conditions in these institutions.
By leaving institutional care, Borce has managed to improve the quality of his life and bring value to his work as a teacher. His story serves as an example of how deinstitutionalization and social inclusion foster independence of people with disabilities.