Kumanovo's sports center for people with disabilities scores double goal for social inclusion

“This is a very special day for me,” says Tatjana Arsovska, “It’s the first time in twelve years my son has clapped his hands!”

Tatjana’s son, aged 12, is taking part in his first class at a sports centre in Kumanovo specially designed for the needs of people with disabilities.

“He has a severe form of autism and he’s been in a wheelchair most of his life,” explains Tatjana. “For so long he’s just not shown any interest in moving. But now—thanks to the great teachers and facilities here—he’s really engaging with the activities and enjoying himself!”

The sports centre has five teachers offering daily classes for people with disabilities. Amongst the teachers is 26-year-old Aleksandar Spirkovski, a former basketball player who completed a university degree four years ago but has—like so many young people in Kumanovo—been unable to find work since graduation.

“I was starting to think of looking for work abroad before this programme started,” says Alex. “There didn’t seem to be a future for me here. Then I took a chance with the Community Works Programme and the experience I’ve gained in working with people with disabilities has totally changed my direction in life. To see them make real progress every lesson has been amazing!”

After ten months in the programme, Alex is now about to become the first person in the country with a master’s degree in working to improve the lives of people with disabilities through sports activities.

The Community Works Programme was launched in 2012 and has been hugely successful in achieving its twin aims of tackling social exclusion on two fronts at once. Implemented by the Government, the municipalities and UNDP, the Programme offers opportunities for unemployed people to gain valuable skills while at the same time providing badly needed social services for the most socially excluded groups in the country.

Already over 8,000 socially excluded people in 30 municipalities have felt the benefits from the services provided through the Programme, with each municipality launching schemes of part-time work experience in areas such as care for the elderly, services for people with disabilities, and early childhood development.

The Municipality of Kumanovo first joined the Community Works Programme in 2013 by launching the sports centre to cater for the needs of some 500 local people with disabilities. The decision to focus on athletics was driven in part by research that showed that people with disabilities suffer high rates of obesity because they lead overly sedentary lives at home or in institutions. The facility has been providing services to 60 beneficiaries, helping to improve their lives and the lives of their families.

“Before this centre was opened, many people with disabilities just stayed at home,” explains Alex, “Now the adults and children who come here have made a lot of friends and their motor skills are improving on a daily basis.”