ASTANA – French photographer Erik Vazzoler visited Almaty May 28 to conduct a series of photography workshops for children with Down syndrome. The two-week event was organised by the Foundation of the First President and supported by the Kenes Social Adaptation and Labour Rehabilitation Centre.
The 10 children taking part in the workshops attend the centre. Established in 1992, it has implemented socially-significant projects and programmes meant to protect the rights and interests of children with developmental challenges along with providing education, social adaptation and day care services to the youngsters and their parents.
With vast experience during his 30-year career in teaching young people in France, Germany and Poland, Vazzoler noted he has no special methodology. He tries to turn his workshops into a vivid and unusual activity going beyond the classroom.
Kenes Centre founder Maira Suleeva spoke about their first meeting.
“We met with Erik Vazzoler more than 15 years ago in our centre. He visited our centre then. Last year, he remembered that he once visited us, came to us and suggested implementing this project, to which I agreed with pleasure,” she said in an interview for this story.
Children with severe psycho-neurological disorders are rarely invited to take part in such projects, she noted.
“Erik expressed interest in working with children with Down syndrome. The group was diverse in terms of age, ranging from seven years to 23 years old. All have Down syndrome. Erik was interacting with the children in a very correct way, as if he has always been part of our team and knew that most important is the respect of a child and his or her dignity and recognition of his or her special features,” she noted.
The children were excited to meet him every day. In addition to the master classes, the centre organised an outdoor photo shoot.
“Every day, they were asking whether Erik would come tomorrow or not and completed their homework with pleasure,” she added.
Vazzoler did not expect the children to be so open and cheerful and Suleeva noted the workshop was a “mutual exchange.”
“I would like to note that Erik emphasised his interest in working and he did not expect that our children would be so open, cheerful and so enthusiastically involved in a creative process. All are individuals with their own preferences. Immersing in their daily life is quite interesting,” she said.
She was surprised the idea came from a foreign photographer, but not local ones.
“On the other hand, this means that our society is not yet ready for inclusiveness in its full sense and meaning – the integration of children with special needs in society, not only at the kindergarten or school level, but at a societal level,” she added.
The centre is continuing to improve its services by offering children various activities.
“We do not only provide comprehensive services to children with different disorders in the day time, but also implement many projects. We have now switched to summer work mode and every Friday we organise very interesting festivities and holidays. The children prepare for these holidays over the week across different themes,” she said.