Guljahan Tanalova has her hands full. She is raising a son alone, and she is coordinator of a new project providing social services for people with disabilities in the city of Ashgabat, in Turkmenistan. She herself has a disability resulting from a musculoskeletal disorder. It makes for a full life, and she is dedicated to her work.
“I would spend my last savings for a taxi to never miss a seminar or training I was invited to,” Tanalova says. Her project is part of a public association called Yenme.
Only a month after the project was established, it already serves about 23 people with disabilities, helping them live independently.
“The turning point in my life was 2015, when I [went to] Kazakhstan, my first-ever trip abroad to participate in a week-long independent living skills training for people with disabilities. I did not expect the training would be facilitated by people with disabilities like me. I was pleasantly surprised to see that people with disabilities can be a part of change,” says Tanalova.
She also travelled to Tajikistan in 2017 to participate in another training on developing the potential of women with disabilities. Using all local opportunities to improve her education and develop her ability to live independently as a woman with disability, she started taking part in activities with Yenme.
The experience changed her. “I realized I could do more for myself and other people,” says Tanalova, who later took a job with the association. “This position was God’s gift to me to realize my potential of being helpful to other people.”
The new project for people with disabilities, funded in part by UNDP in Turkmenistan, is one of 12 new social services piloted as part of a UN-Turkmenistan Joint Programme. While Tanalova’s project targets people with disabilities, other community-based social services are offered for children without parental care, youth at risk, women facing gender-based violence and unintended pregnancy, elderly people living alone, and people with chronic illnesses. The work is carried out by participating UN agencies and their partners in Ashgabat and other regions.
“This social service was designed in a way so that people with disabilities would not be institutionalized and so that they would receive necessary support to overcome difficult life situations with support of a personal assistant and realize their own potential,” adds Timur Dosmamedov, Manager of the UNDP component of the UN-Turkmenistan Joint Programme on social services.
A person with a disability in need of personal assistance services may apply to Yenme directly or social work specialists may refer to this service. Tanalova and her team assess individual needs together with a potential service user and relevant specialists in such areas as family health or recreation and fitness.
Independent living is a worldwide movement of disabled people working for equal opportunities, self-determination, and self-respect. Tanalova’s team at Yenme is piloting how this approach might work in Turkmenistan with services offered by civil-society organizations.
The hope is that the success of this pilot project will help decision-makers not only serve people with disabilities but also make them active participants in the process of change.
After all, says Tanalova, “If you don’t have a disability, you cannot see or feel all aspects of our daily problems. “We are the only experts of our own situations.”