Gulbeniz Gurbanova is one of many talented students of Azerbaijan’s first Inclusive Art School in Baku – offering classes in drawing, knitting and woodcarving for people with and without disabilities.
Already trained in sewing and carpet-weaving before she enrolled, Gulbeniz has now added knitting to her handcraft skills through the courses she has attended at the school.
“I live with my three-year old son in Masazir and I don’t get to move around in this area or have much communication with my neighbours,” Gulbeniz explains. “That’s one reason I love coming to the Art School. It’s a chance to meet up with students and my teachers. The social aspects and the change of scenery all motivate me to create more art. It’s a joyful, optimistic place to learn.”
Gulbeniz was born into a large family in Aghjabadi and still likes to visit her many brothers and sisters there when she can. “Of course I prefer to be with my family and I love the nature in Aghjabadi,” she says, “But it was easier for me to get an education in Baku because of my difficulties moving.”
Gulbeniz was only three months old she was diagnosed with poliomyelitis – a disease caused by the poliovirus that has severe affects on the nervous system. As a result of her need for help with transport and access to specialised care, Gulbeniz attended a boarding school for persons with disabilities.
“I hated being away from my family, but I always loved learning. I really liked my maths and technology and music classes at school but art has always been my favourite subject. I love working with my hands, and that’s why I chose knitting. My next classes are going be in drawing.”
Since she started learning how to knit, Gulbeniz has created dozens of beautiful woollen dolls and is planning to exhibit and sell them as part of her ambition to a financially independent and successful artist.
The Inclusive Art School was opened as part of a wider project for ‘Addressing the Rights and Well-Being of Women with Disabilities and Veterans of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict’, funded by the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of the Population and implemented by UNDP and UNFPA in Azerbaijan. The project was launched at the initiative of the First Vice President of Azerbaijan, Mehriban Aliyeva.
The aim of this project is to help reduce the barriers for people with disabilities who continue to experience challenges caused by the lack of inclusive education and employment opportunities as well as social stigmatization towards disability in the society by encouraging people with disabilities to become self-confident, self-employed and self-sufficient. Beneficiaries of the project inspire other people with and without disabilities by their own examples and through mutual experiences. This continuous process in turn brings about a bigger societal change that makes the world a better place where no one is left behind.