In late July, Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, visited Tashkent. She held a series of meetings dedicated to protecting the rights of the most vulnerable children in society. Also, Ms. Khan visited the Ilkhom Theater, where she talked with novice young artists with disabilities and professional actors – all of them are participants in an inclusive project.
A six-month school-laboratory for people with special needs has been operating in Ilkhom. This is an inclusive theater – a platform where children with disabilities gather and create together with artists. The permanent composition of the team is a little over twenty people.

As the artistic director of the theater Boris GAFUROV said, the idea of establishing a creative laboratory has been around for a long time. Once a week the group is engaged in various exercises and experimenting. In November there will be a final stage – actors plan to create a full-fledged theater inclusive project, which will be shown on the Ilkhom stage.
“I hope that the production will find its place in our repertoire,” says Boris Gafurov. – This is not a one-time project, we want the performance to go on constantly. According to the artistic director, the objective of the inclusive school is to study together. Actors of Ilkhom and children with disabilities acquire something new, interesting, useful for themselves.
Vika Kurbanova, 15, told us that a friend invited her here. From the first days, Vika, really liked the theater.
“I’ve been doing it for half a year already,” the girl shares. – Here I practically learned not to be shy, it’s cool here, it’s never boring, and time flies quickly. We have interesting assignments. For example, we came on the stage one at a time and showed, without words, what theater means to us. Or I called the place, and everyone else imagined that they were in this place.”
Vika loves to sing, studies well. She has not yet decided on her future profession, but she dreams of becoming a doctor. The young actor admits that sometimes she can be energetic, and sometimes her hands drop, but then she cheers up and moves on to her goal.
“I wish everyone to be what you want yourself,” the girl adds. “No need to try to become better for someone – I learned this in the theater”.
Larisa Vladimirovna KHVAN, Yura’s mother, also a member of an inclusive group, believes that the theater project helps children in creative expression.
“My son likes to communicate with guys, actors. He has not been to the performances yet, but we will definitely go”, says Larisa Vladimirovna. “Yura has become more sociable thanks to his studies. He has ceased to be afraid, feels more confident. I repeat to my children, I have three of them, that we must not hang our heads down. Yes, some children in the yard and school would often say to my second son that he had a sick brother. He would be upset, and I would explain to him that we did not choose such a life, we need to hold on.”
Khodjiakbar’s mom said that they told her about this project in the rehabilitation center.
“For us, such a creative laboratory is an innovation”, the woman shares. “In Tashkent, there are very few projects for children with special developmental needs. I would like to thank the actors who work here, they welcomed us very warmly. My son flourished in Ilkhom, since he was constrained before here he came out of shell.

Jamilya Mukhamedovna, the mother of 23-year-old Neli, is also glad that her daughter is engaged at the theater, where she came to with pleasure. She is opening up here.
“Nelya works at school, she likes her work, the head teacher, the team received my daughter well”, says Jamilya Mukhamedovna. “Changes are taking place in the country now. I hope that there will be positive changes in relation to people with disabilities too”.

Nasiba JUMABAEVA shared with us her problem, because of which the girl with disabilities could not enter the university.
“I had difficulty in painting the circles on the answer sheet”, Nasiba complained. “I applied to the faculty of English philology at the National University of Uzbekistan and could not paint over the circles, so, unfortunately, I failed to enter, although I answered almost all the questions. This year we requested the Cabinet of Ministers to review the conditions of entry for people with disabilities. This year, we hope that they will provide me with a person who will help paint over the circles.

Ulyana PEREPLETCHIKOVA, mother of 15-year-old Polina, said that she herself came to work in the project as a psychologist.
“I was fortunate enough to let all this magic through me”, says Ulyana. “Since I have a child with special needs, I asked the project managers to accept Polina into the group. At first, despite the fact that my girl is quite sociable, she was afraid of everything, did not understand why this was necessary, and was shy. But then she joined the team, made friends with the guys, and began to take an active part in the classes with everyone. I was able to see my child from a new and unexpected side. Polina is a very deep and intelligent girl, she knows how to be creative, to improvise. Thanks to the inclusive theater, she has become more open and even, I would say, more businesslike, in the good sense of the word. I believe that the project helps our children to find their place under the sun, to feel like a necessary and active part of society. In addition, this is a very useful experience of personal and spiritual growth for all people who do not have special needs.

The artistic director of Ilkhom also believes that the project gives a lot to professional theater actors.
“As an actor, I do all the exercises together with the guys,” continues Boris Gafurov. “I’ve been on stage for 27 years, but thanks to these guys and joint creativity with them, I’m gaining something new. When the project began, no one distributed the role. The theater actors themselves decided whether to participate in an inclusive school or not.
“We are all in an understandable world, we are engaged in the business that we know, with very understandable people,” adds the artistic director. “And here you find yourself in a slightly different reality, on a new planet that we create together. You understand that you can communicate differently than you are used to. Thanks to the guys, you get out of the shell of your usual life, get away from certain cliches.”

Theater actress Natalya LI noted that when you work with such guys, you realize that you have limited opportunities.
“In the final performance, we will go on stage together,” says Natalya. “We are all, both professionals and non-professionals, afraid, worried. Children with special needs are strong, and during our project they become stronger internally. I do not divide people into healthy and unhealthy – we communicate on equal terms here.
After the meeting in the Ilkhom Theater, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia Afshan KHAN gave us a short interview: “For me it was very emotional. We saw that we can unite with people who have different forms of disability, and create, going beyond the boundaries of your body. We all need to go beyond stereotypes and communicate differently. Guys, their work inspires me. We can learn from their example – I would also like to attend such drama trainings. I am convinced that all people, regardless of their state of health, have the ability to create an environment where people with disabilities can show their talents. ”
Nadejda NAM