“What contribution (in terms of paid or voluntarily employment/engagement/social activity) a person with an intellectual disability can bring to the community? What social role he/she can have? What is the role of service provider and professionals in this?
These questions are at the origin of the ValorEmpl Project, and answering them is what is moving a very committed partnership led by MPC Sint Franciscus and involving organisations from Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, and Greece: HUBBIE, ARFIE, Les Gents d’Or, SEVEL, AMPANS, CADIAI, Margarita.
Through the ValorEmpl project, the Partnership wants to look at new inclusion and employment practices, explore them, and identify key elements for success as well as obstacles to their implementation and transfer. The objective is therefore to point out elements that facilitate the professional and social integration of people with intellectual disability.
To do so, the partnership is organising five training workshops in the Countries involved: Italy, France, Greece, Spain, and Belgium
In December 2021, with more than a year of delay due to the well-known C-virus and its consequences, we were able to meet again in Athens (GR) hosted by our friends from Margarita. Despite the uncertainties connected to the rebound of the pandemic, Margarita did a great job in organising a training that offered a good insight of their work.
They move heaven and earth to get people with disabilities into stable employment. In addition to preparing and training people for employment, they work closely with Greek institution to try to influence politics to obtain legislative changes in favour of their beneficiaries and their families.
However, though our project we were also able to notice that there are still many gaps in the legislation regarding working for people with disabilities. For example, there are often people with disabilities who are not allowed to work because they have been labeled “disabled” or “unable to work”.
We wanted to have a feedback also from our friends from Margarita and we decided to ask a few questions to Dimitris Tourlidas, Project Manager at Margarita RDI Department.
- What are your comments on this ValorEmpl Project Meeting in Athens, organized by your association Margarita?
The meeting in Athens appeared very interesting and full of beautiful moments. Three days, four countries, five organizations, 22 participants. During these days, we had the opportunity to visit three social cooperatives, meet with the managers and trainers and talk with the employees with support needs. In fact, we were glad to be able to participate and contribute to some of their daily work duties.
Furthermore, we visited Coco-Mat hotel, an enterprise in the Open Labor Marker, where two beneficiaries –Georgia and Apostolos – from MARGARITA are employed. They talked about their tasks in the hotel company and described their role and their relationships with the rest of their colleagues. Moreover, a representative from OAED (the Greek Manpower Employment Organization) presented to us the existing programs of the Greek Government, aimed at financially supporting employers to hire people belonging to vulnerable groups, in order to facilitate working integration and reduce the unemployment rate.
Of course, we didn’t miss the chance to visit one of the most important remaining buildings of Classical Greece, the Parthenon, where we were informed about the historical place of Acropolis by a professional guide.
- What are, from your perspective, the positive aspects of being involved in such exchange programs?
From our perspective, there are many positive aspects for both trainers, meaning the professionals being involved in the exchange program, and beneficiaries.
Trainers/professionals, who travel with beneficiaries and are able to spend whole days with them, have the opportunity to better understand their needs, desires and wishes. Professionals observe the reaction of beneficiaries to new stimuli, too, which helps them explore new areas of interest. Additionally, trainers acquire new knowledge regarding systems and good practices that exist elsewhere. Thus, they have the chance to bring good practices back home, pilot new projects in their country/organization and experience alternative ways to support beneficiaries, something that can even drive policy recommendation activities and collaboration with the State.
The beneficiaries as well gain a lot from participating in these exchange programs. First, for some of the beneficiaries it is their first trip abroad. This experience gives them the opportunity to control their anxiety and fears and learn how to overcome such issues for a good reason, since they learn how to prioritize their will to participate in the exchange program. Additionally, they experience new languages, come in acquaintance with new people and new cultures. They belong to a multinational team that contributes to a noble cause. They feel more self-confident since they have an active role in each exchange program. A very important aspect is that beneficiaries widen their social networks and many of them then stay in touch with other beneficiaries, even if they struggle in the communications due to language difficulties.
One very important and essential example that shows the importance of traveling for our beneficiaries, was what we experienced in the ValorEmpl project, during our visit to Brest, France. In Brest –among others– we visited an area where workers with support needs were living. One of our beneficiaries (He) expressed for the first time the will to live alone, in a supported living apartment. That was the first time for him to think and express something like that. The second beneficiary who was with us in Brest (She), after our visits to three Social Cooperatives, expressed for the first time her will to find a job in the open labor market. Nowadays, she has found employment and she is ready to be part of the employees’ community.
- In the future, would you see an interest to be actively involved in the European NGO ARFIE? what would be your expectations from such involvement and what would/could your organisation be able to contribute to?
MARGARITA is constantly looking to widen its networks. Thus, it is of our interest to examine the opportunity of extending our cooperation with ARFIE and its member organizations.
Our expectations would be to gain knowledge and learn good practices as far as social entrepreneurship is concerned. We believe that we have a lot to learn from the various central European models that have been running for several decades in these countries.
Our contribution can be in several fields since we have an experienced and very active RDI Department. The topics we focus on are:
- Arts, Sports and Other Leisure Activities
- Human Rights
- Independent Living
- Supported Decision Making & Self-advocacy
- Supported Employment
- Vocational Training and Certification
We would be eager to contribute in matters concerning the field of Arts and Supported Employment.
The visit in Athens proved to be an amazing opportunity to discover the employment system for people with disability in Greece but also to strengthen the cooperation with an amazing organisation like Margarita.
It takes titanic work to continue to sue the competent authorities to get things moving.
We can learn a lot from Margarita, in particular on how they handle this. At the same time however, it is important to join forces at a European level.
ARFIE, together with all partners, plays an important role in this. It is only by working together that we can bring change.
In this sense, we take advantage of this article to invite you to the workshop on “disability and work” that we are organising for Friday 17th of June in Brussels. It will be the closure event of our project and we want to bring together beneficiaries, professionals in the disability field, and policy maker, to discuss employment for people with disability in a European perspective and take stock the exchanges organised during the project.
Based on our findings within the project, we want to discuss the next steps with our ARFIE partners. This with the aim of creating more paid work internationally and nationally for people with disabilities, so that people can take on a meaningful role in society.
Join the debate! See you on the 17 of June in Brussels.