There is only one special school for the whole of Montenegro, located in the capital, Podgorica. Access to this school’s 110 places is a ‘right’ for all special needs kids. But if you live out of town, don’t have a car, or lack the time to escort your child there and back, the school and its facilities might as well be on the moon.
OM (Operation Mobilisation) Montenegro’s autism ministry, based 50km away in Bar, knew several teens who would benefit from attending the school, so the transport challenge was on.
Natja Sachse, from the OM team in Bar, has led the autism ministry for seven years. She said, ‘The families we know are often unaware how to access the little state provision there is. Then we had a breakthrough’.
In late 2016, a special needs expert teacher called Isobel, a long-standing volunteer with the team, came over from Scotland. She led training at the special school in Podgorica, which led to a recognition by Bar’s social services that four young people from that town could go there too, as a right. Furthermore, social services would give each family a subsidy of 100 euros (116 USD) each month to cover their public transport costs, as none had a car.
The answer to the transport challenge came in the shape of OM’s elderly, seven-seater team car — a silver 2003 Renault Espace. Pooling the public transport subsidies funds the car’s basic running costs, and fuel for the daily 130km round trip, and pays a small wage to Edin (name changed), the stepfather of one of the teens, who drives it.
Edin’s 15-year-old stepson, Balsa (name changed), is severely autistic, non-verbal and sometimes aggressive towards himself. Because he had to spend so much time at home caring for Balsa, Edin wasn’t able to find a job as a taxi-driver. But now he drives for OM instead, and two other parents come along in the car as escorts.
‘You can see how much dignity and pride this work has restored to him’, Natja Sachse commented. ‘We have seen progress in how they respect others more and behave more appropriately, and in practical skills like dressing themselves and using the toilet, boosting their independence.
‘Nowhere else in Montenegro can they access this sort of therapy, and the most able can even study work skills like hairdressing’.
The car, however, breaks down too often, so the team are hoping to raise enough euros to buy a replacement seven-seater, ready for the autumn 2018 term.