Festival of handicapped children's creativity starts this month

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A competitive festival displaying the creativity of children and young people from homes for the mentally handicapped gets underway in the Czech Republic later this month. The festival, called "Space for Soul" has been designed to help young mentally handicapped people integrate better into society and to contribute to it. Alena Skodova has more:

The original idea for the festival was thought up two years ago in a home for mentally handicapped in the town of Tachov in West Bohemia. The first round of the festival will be held later this month at Tachov castle, and several children's homes will participate. Further rounds will be held in Prague, with the best groups going on to the finals at the Solidarita Theatre. As its director, Irena Hrusinova told me, her theatre has for a long time been organizing all kinds of events for children, including the handicapped, and she sees the forthcoming festival as a chance to show how much the mentally handicapped have to offer society..

"By organizing the festival we want to make the public realize that although these children are mentally handicapped, they are able to perceive the world through deep emotions, that they are able to create beautiful things and through them convey something to other people. We want to show that when we care for them, they are able to give back."

Mrs. Hrusinova told me that simply demonstrating their abilities helps handicapped children a lot, because for them it's a means of communication and contact with people. Drama-therapy and songs are powerful tools and carers working with mentally handicapped children use such methods extensively. So what about the finals in the Solidarita theatre - what is there to look forward to?

"The final part of the festival in the Solidarita Theatre in mid-September will feature 10 performances, including dance, and singing - a choir of some 10 children will sing folk songs, country and spiritual. Other children will sing with guitars and act out fairy tales. In addition we'll have here an exhibition of children's drawings and all kinds of handicrafts."

Mrs. Hrusinova said her theatre had invited students of psychology to come and see the festival, because it might help them get better acquainted with the mentally handicapped. But she also expressed the hope that the festival will be useful for the general public and especially for carers, who will be able to exchange experience about their work with mentally handicapped children.