Czechia helping establish autism support strategy in Moldova
Moldova is one of Europe’s poorest countries with a very high rate of migration. According to statistics from the Czech NGO People in Need, four people leave Moldova every hour for a better life abroad. The post-Soviet republic, located between Romania and Ukraine, is one of the six priority countries for Czech development cooperation, which focuses, among other things, on helping children.
“We really wanted to influence the quality of life of children with autism and rare genetic diseases in Moldova, but we needed help from outside. We approached different organisations and embassies and in 2018, the Czech Development Agency developed a four-year strategy addressing the problem. The project was undertaken jointly by - ADRA Czech Republic and ADRA Moldova and had a direct impact on the lives of parents and children.”
Aliona Dumitrash is Executive Director of SOS Autism, a centre helping people suffering with autism based in Moldova’s capital Chisinau. The centre was established within the mentioned project of the Czech Development Agency.
Mrs Dumitrash, who is herself a mother of an autistic child, says autism has long been marginalised in Moldova, both in terms of legislation and perception in society:
“The main objective of the project was to improve the quality and accessibility of services offered to autistic children and their parents. There are not many of these children in Moldova, so people tend to overlook the problem. But of course the problem exists and the state has not been providing any services at all.”
To begin with, it was necessary to identify the needs and gaps in the legislative framework, to purchase various diagnostic tests and to train staff to learn how to diagnose the symptoms.
Since it was established, the project succeeded in mobilizing parents of autistic children, increasing access to information and raising awareness of the problem in Moldovan society. Experts from Czechia helped with the training of staff and doctors.
“Specialists from Czechia came to share their experience with us and taught us how to make a diagnosis. Our main partner in Czechia was NAUTIS, which has much more experience than us. Their help and support was very important for us.
“They have very good experts in psychology and psychiatry. The most important thing for us was to understand how to work with autistic adults, because we don’t have any experience with this in Moldova, while the Czech experience spans more than 30 years.”
One of the key points of the Czech project was the acquisition, reconstruction and refurbishment of a health centre called SOS Autism.
“Thanks to this project, we acquired a centre for people with autism. There are doctors who make diagnoses, track the child’s development, and there is also a speech therapist. This health centre is essential for the activities of our organization and we are very happy that we have it.”
Czechia implemented its first projects in Moldova as early as 2001. An intergovernmental agreement on development cooperation was signed between the two countries in 2012. Since then, it has identified four priority areas of cooperation: agriculture and rural development, social infrastructure development, sustainable management of natural resources and support for civil society and democratic institutions.
Kateřina Šilhánková, is the Development and Economic Counsellor at the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Chisinau:
“In 2022, there were approximately 40 projects underway in Moldova and their total value was approximately 150 million crowns. The operating budget tends to be around CZK 100 million. However, it has now been increased to include humanitarian aid for Ukrainian refugees.”
Moldova’s new government has been moving further away from Russia towards the European Union. However, the country is not progressing as fast as it could.
Moldova is still one of the poorest countries in Europe and many of its citizens, mostly the young ones, are seeking better job opportunities abroad. Their elderly parents are often left behind, with no one to look after them.
That’s why Czech development cooperation in Moldova focuses, among other things, on the development and support of social care, says Mrs. Šilhánková:
“We have been supporting projects to promote home care for a long time. We have already established ten home care centres in several regions throughout Moldova, providing comprehensive support.
“Two years ago, we also started to support the development of telemedicine, which became very topical during the Covid crisis, because patients had limited access to health care.
“It is also topical for Moldova because of the demographic crisis. The regions are depopulating and there are often no specialists available. So, thanks to telemedicine, people from the regions can get in touch with a specialist in Chisinau to consult their problems.”
Czech detector dogs helping in Moldova
Another priority of Czech development cooperation is support for democratic institutions in Moldova. There are currently three key projects currently underway, including support for Moldovan firefighters, harmonising the social system in the Gagauzia region and assisting the Moldovan Customs canine service.
The latter project, which was launched only this year, is implemented by Czechia’s Customs Administration, and is in fact a continuation of a very successful project previously implemented in Georgia, says Colonel Petr Müller, Head of the administration’s Supervision Department.
“As part of the project, the Czech Customs Administration provides professional training of service dogs. We are responsible for selecting the service dogs, setting up the training method and putting them in active service.
“Moldova, as well as Georgia, have only started to develop this sector, and they are finding out the possibilities of acquisition, training and use of service dogs.
“I think the Czech Customs Administration canine service belongs to the world elite in this field. That’s why we can offer them a slightly different and economically viable approach than the one offered, for example, by the United States.”
In 2022, Moldovan experts came to Czechia to learn how to train service dogs and to see them in action – both on the roads and at airport checks. Czech dog training experts also visited Moldova to evaluate the work of the local customs administration and border police.
The project is planned to run until 2025. During that time, Czech experts intend to train 12 dogs and 12 specialists, as well as to pass on their own training methods and know-how to their Moldovan colleagues:
“It is important that they use these methods even after the project ends, and apply them on newly acquired dogs. Passing on the methodology is one of the key objectives of the project.
“It is also important to set up of rules for the deployment of service dogs at airports, at border crossings and on roads, so that they are in line with the local regulations.”
According to Mr. Müller, Moldavian customs officers and their service dogs deal with similar problems as their colleagues elsewhere in Europe:
“At the moment, it mainly concerns the illegal movement of weapons in connection with the current war conflict, migration and other security risks in Europe.
“Then there is of course smuggling of drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine or cannabis. The drugs get to Europe through the Balkans route, from Asia, and from other countries, such as Latin America.
“And the customs administration in Moldova also focuses on uncovering smuggling of tobacco products.”
In addition to projects in the area of social infrastructure development and support for civil society and democratic institutions, the Czech Development Agency finances a number of projects in the field of sustainable management of natural resources and in the field of agriculture and rural development.
These include improving protection, use and development of water resources, water quality, restoration of water resources, increasing the availability of quality drinking water, and wastewater management.
In the agricultural sector, projects aim to support the income of individual farmers by providing efficient production resources, the necessary knowledge, market access and opportunities for value added businesses.