Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Special Day with "A Special World"

On Sunday July 29th, Moishe House Minsk joined a local non-profit organization, "A Special World," for a day of horseback riding and a picnic. What made this activity extra special were the children who joined us from "A Special World." Each child is disabled and uses a wheelchair. We decided to go horseback riding with them in order to provide them with an activity that is both fun and therapeutic.

"A Special World," directed by Elena Serkulskaya, helps the children in a variety of ways. First, Serkulskaya has trained this group of children and their mothers in adaptive wheelchair dance and their dance troupe, "Mandarin," has traveled all over Belarus and abroad to perform. Adaptive dance for those in wheelchairs is an excellent means of rehabilitation and has improved the self-esteem of the children tremendously. Additionally, since the mothers participate, they feel proud to dance with their children, instead of ashamed due to social stigmas regarding disability. Lastly, the group of children and mother pairs is cohesive and supportive, which is one of its most important assets. On Sunday during our group event, Moishe House Minsk was privileged to take part in that supportive group.

"Mandarin" Performs at the Minsk Jewish Campus

Directors of "A Special World," Dmitry Shaplyko and Elena Serkulskaya, are themselves world champions of adaptive ballroom dance. As partners, they won the Paralympic World Championship in adaptive dance in Tokyo in 2004. Dmitry was trained in traditional ballroom dance and partnered with Elena, who dances in a wheelchair, in 2003. Many years ago when performing a complicated freestyle ski-jump routine, Elena endured a serious accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. After spending many years without leaving her home, Elena felt that as an athlete, her life was over. Nevertheless, she not only found the strength to rejoin society, but to improve the lives of children in wheelchairs as well. She manages the "Mandarin" dance troupe of disabled children and mother pairs, instructs rehabilitative excercise, and provides governement agencies with educational seminars on disabilities and effective rehabilitation. Additionally, Elena is a PhD candidate, one of the first to have writen her disertation on disability and rehabilitaion in Belarus. On Sunday, she was our instructor of rehabilitative horseback riding and each of us took part in the process of helping the children, and Elena herlsef, ride.

Helping Elena onto the horse

And she's on!

The most marvelous thing about our day of horseback riding with "A Special World" was that after each of the children had parked their wheelchairs many meters away and gotten up on the horses it became difficult to remember which of us had arrived in wheelchairs and which hadn't. Moishe House guests began to see the children as Geniya, Anton, and Natasha, instead of seeing them as their disability, so blatant when one sits in a wheelchair. And more importantly, the children themselves began to feel liberated from their wheelchairs, moving much higher and faster than usual. Elena herself remarked that being on the horse reminded her of walking.

After everyone had had a turn on the horses, mothers included, we sat down for a picnic lunch.

We shared stories from Moishe House events and listened to stories from the children and mothers of "A Special World." When it was time to go home, everyone left smiling, having enjoyed a very special day.