A project by J.K. Rowlingâs charity Lumos to transform the lives of thousands of disabled children in Moldova has been shortlisted in the final round of the prestigious UK 2015 Charity Awards.
The charityâs âInclusive Educationâ project, which has attracted international attention for its innovative approach to including disabled children in mainstream schools, has been shortlisted in the âInternational Aid & Developmentâ category.
The project has made a significant contribution to the reform of child care and protection services in Moldova, which had one of the highest proportions in Europe of children separated from families and living in institutions.
Children with physical and intellectual disabilities accounted for more than 40% of all institutionalised children, living away from home in poor-quality âspecial residential schoolsâ because there were no services for them to be educated in their local schools. Reform, helped by Lumos, meant that the number of children with special needs educated in inclusive mainstream schools in Moldova increased over the four years to 2014 by 350% â from 1,253 to 4,495.
Awards category winners and an overall charity of the year will be chosen by the organisers, Civil Society Media, at an event in London on June 18. In the organiserâs announcement of the shortlist today, awards judge Richard Hawkes, chief executive of disability charity Scope, said the Lumos project demonstrated âreally good practice in a challenging environmentâ.
Another judge, Su Sayer, founder of United Response, described the programme as âa terrific modelâ. She added: âWhat Lumos is doing is just so desperately needed. I imagine that this will just spread and spread and spread.â
Tania Mason, group editor at Civil Society Media, said: âWe had an almost record number of entries this year â just four fewer than our all-time high in 2011 â and the standard was excellent, so Lumos Foundation should be very proud to have made the shortlist.â
Lumos CEO Georgette Mulheir said the shortlisting â for Lumosâ first entry in the awards â was testament to years of work by the Lumos Moldova team led by Dr. Irina Malanciuc, one of her countryâs leading paediatricians. âWe are delighted to be shortlisted and weâre proud of our team in Moldova, who have done so much to improve the lives of some of their countryâs most disadvantaged children.â
Dr. Malanciuc added: âMoldova committed to closing child institutions and returning children to family life. But it had no system to allow inclusive education in local mainstream schools for thousands of disabled children who were living away from home and their families in grim residential special schools.
âLumos designed and helped create mainstream inclusive education services from scratch, and we showed that an inclusive model could work for all children. We know of many, many children with disabilities who are now able to return home from living in institutions and orphanages, and happily learning in local schools, alongside non-disabled fellow pupils in their own communities.â
One pupil who has enjoyed the reform is DumitriĆŁa, a 14-year-old schoolgirl with disabilities who met J.K. Rowling at a Lumos event in November last year and said:
âI lived for five years in an institution. The time I spent there seemed like an eternity. I felt like I was in a dark labyrinth where I couldnât find the light. Only the hope that the day would come when I could go back home gave me strength.
âMy biggest dream was to be with my parents and sister. Everything I dreamed of came true. I came back home and everything changed. Iâve been studying at the school in my village for two years now. At the beginning it was very hard, I was afraid that the other children would not talk to me but it was completely different. My colleagues and teachers were nice to me. They offered me a lot of support and continue to do so. They help me with homework, moving around the school, carrying my backpack.â
Moldova, Europeâs poorest nation, proved that reform of child care and protection services is affordable for all countries. Lumos helped the government to âring-fenceâ savings from closing institutions for investment in special needs services in mainstream schools â including specialist resource centres with skills such as speech therapy. The results were dramatic. By 2013, 40% of schools had government funds for support teachers and other specialised resources, and the numbers have continued to grow.
Lumos has also trained more than 10,000 head teachers, teachers, support staff, policy-makers and other professionals in Moldova. In 2014-15, in a World Bank-funded project, Lumos has worked on behalf of the government to analyse the educational services in 24 counties in Moldova with a view to expanding the inclusive education model piloted with Lumosâ assistance â in Ialoveni and Floresti counties â across the whole country.
Lumosâ innovative approach was also recognised last month when Georgette Mulheir was honoured in the United States for her work on behalf of eight million disadvantaged children in institutions and orphanages around the world.
Georgette, a pioneer over two decades of a model of âdeinstitutionalisationâ now followed by many governments, received a Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Award, which celebrates innovation and âthose whose ideas have broken the mould to create significant impactâŠin the fields of healthcare, education, international development, politics and advocacy, media, the arts and entertainment.â Last year, Georgette was named in the US as one of the worldâs 30 most influential social workers, the only European on the list.