Breaking Barriers: How an EU-funded Project in North Macedonia Transformed the Lives of Persons with Disabilities

Published: Apr 3, 2023 Reading time: 4 minutes
Photos of the adapted group home for independent living in the community of Demir Kapija and Negotino, North Macedonia (rooms, appliances, household items), taken in 2021.
© Photo: Marija Dimkovska PIN

The EU-funded project “Getting a Life” succeeded in doing exactly that – enabling a new and better life in the community for 45 people from North Macedonia, users of the Demir Kapija Special Institution for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities. 

The “Getting a Life”, a project funded by the European Union in North Macedonia was an ambitious effort to introduce the concept and practice of deinstitutionalization for residents of the Demir Kapija Institution. For almost 40 months and despite facing challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, People in Need (PIN) and its local partners - Demir Kapija Special Institution, NGO SOLEM, and KRIK, worked on transforming the lives of the users and the Institution, building capacities of the staff and raising awareness on the rights of persons with disabilities across the country.

The project focused on creating independent living units for the residents of the Demir Kapija Special Institution, thus a total of nine houses were renovated, adapted and equipped for independent living of persons with different abilities. 

As a result, 45 users, including five children, were resettled and adapted to living in a community in the pleasant and welcoming neighborhoods of Demir Kapija, Negotino, and Skopje.

I’m very proud that our project has brought dignity to some of the most vulnerable people in North Macedonian society. This project should be used as a model for the local and national governments to follow as we work to dismantle outdated approaches to supporting persons with disabilities. Let’s work together to help them get a real life,” said Ali Misimi, project manager with PIN.

A House for a Real Life

One of the first to experience independent living was Gjoko, who had spent more than a decade at the Demir Kapija Special Institution. In North Macedonia, institutions, like Demir Kapija, are residential care units where users are excluded from society and do not have sufficient control over their lives.

When we went to visit Gjoko two years ago, he was very proud to show us his new home and the garden he enjoys caring for,” recalled Misimi. 

Transformation of Residential-type Institutions 

Institutions like the one in Demir Kapija are residential care units where residents are excluded from society and do not have sufficient control over their lives. Another achievement of the project was the development of a Transformation Plan for the Demir Kapija Special Institution, which laid out a roadmap for transforming the institution into a more humane and person-centered environment. This included also investing in staff and caregivers to build their capacities to provide proper care for the residents.

Over 120 employees, including coordinators, physiotherapists, special educators, and social workers, were trained in best European practices for working with people with intellectual disabilities. Additionally, 80 professional staff members were trained to develop personal plans for users - selecting and organizing the services and support that a person with a disability may need to live in the community

We recruited and trained caregivers, coordinators, and physiotherapists to work in the newly established independent living units. However, we recognized that the need is bigger, so we supported the set-up of a daily activity center in Skopje, which can now provide support and organize activities for people with intellectual disabilities”, said Misimi.

Awareness-raising was another important element for the success of the Project, noted Misimi.

It helped us to create an enabling environment for the newly resettled and explain to the immediate neighbors and the wider public about the benefits of inclusion and integration of persons with disabilities in the community”, Misimi said.

Some eighteen public events were held, and a video was produced to promote the human rights of persons with disabilities. Two self-advocacy groups were trained to continue and lead the awareness-raising activities. This culminated in the first conference of self-advocates at the national level, held on November 28th in Skopje, when more than 100 self-advocates from across the country participated.

Even though there are still more than 60 people with intellectual disabilities waiting to be resettled and get a real life in North Macedonia, the PIN's project has pawed the way forward by providing tools, knowledge and capacities on how this can be done.

This EU-funded project supported the transformation of the Demir Kapija Special Institution (DKSI) into a resource center for persons with intellectual disabilities (PwID). Other activities include the resettlement of 45 beneficiaries into nine (9) independent living houses, developing community-based services for people with intellectual disabilities, and helping in the creation of self-advocacy groups for promoting the deinstitutionalization process. Additionally, DKSI staff will be trained in developing personal plans for clients and for the new ways of working with PwIDs.
Autor: Maša Živojinović, Ali Misimi, Timothy Jenkins

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