A selfie with Mateo

UNDP Albania

December 2, 2022

With support from the Government of Switzerland, UNDP is helping children with disabilities have better access to social services.

I met Mateo at the Community Development Center in Saranda. He was completely absorbed in his computer game. I approached him.

His sharp eyes, wide open, spoke volumes but he did not utter a word.

Later, I gave him my phone to take a picture. He didn’t require instructions on what to do. He snapped a stunning selfie of the two of us.

Mateo, 14 years old, is one of 35 children with disabilities who receive services at the center.

A selfie with Mateo

A selfie with Mateo

Autism Never takes a day off

Mateo’s mother Olta speaks about what it means to be a mother of an autistic child. “It is a roller-coaster ride that I am not sure where it will take both of us. Autism never sleeps”-she says.

“Mateo was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at an early age. We were very happy when the center was opened in Saranda. It was like a light at the end of the tunnel for us. Such a service never existed in our town. Mateo has been going to the center since it opened four years ago. The place is so dear to him that he never misses a single day and usually spends the entire morning there. In the center, he receives developmental therapy, speech therapy-all tailored for his needs, and participates in various games. He is attracted to technology. What he likes most is history and games because, to quote him, he “plays with his friends.” Although autism is a disorder that affects children’s ability to socialize, Mateo is a loving and social child. The center offers him, among other things, the opportunity to socialize. It is an essential part of his daily routine and has helped him tremendously to further develop his skills”- she went on.

Mateo’s mother goes on to explain the participatory approach that the center follows which seems to be producing results:

“The center brings us parents, children and the professional staff together with the aim of creating a setting where our children can maximize their potential”.

But Mateo’s parents have a burning concern: He is growing up, and they don’t know what will happen when, due to his age, he won’t be able to go to this center any longer. The town of Saranda does not offer any other service for children above 16.

The Development Center

The Development Center in Saranda offers individual and group therapy sessions. Every day, family members walk their children to the center. When you speak to parents, they tell you about the insurmountable barriers their children encounter in accessing critical social care services.

“Leave no one behind” is a United Nations joint project implemented by UNDP, UNICEF, UNFPA and UN Women. With unwavering support and long-standing commitment from the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation, the project works to boost opportunities for vulnerable communities to access social care services wherever they are.

The Development Center for Children with Disabilities in Saranda was established in 2017 by the municipality in partnership with UNDP. This is part of UNDP’s assistance to a number of municipalities in Albania in developing new models of community-based social services for people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, with a single goal in mind: to ensure inclusion for those who have been left behind.

Run by the municipality, the centre functions as a daycare centre with a capacity of 35 children. It offers special social care services ranging from developmental therapies to speech therapies, physiotherapy, and psychological support. Children receive one or more therapy sessions daily, depending on their needs. Therapies are tailored to each individual.

Get the FACTS

  • 5 professionals, including a social worker, a psychologist, a speech therapist, a physiotherapist, offer specialized services at the center
  • 15 such centers have been established across Albania
  • 375 children with disabilities benefit from those services.
Children benefit from individual and group therapy sessions

Children benefit from individual and group therapy sessions

UNDP Albania

Mateo’s parents have a dream

Mateo’s parents dream of living in a country where their son and other people with disabilities get access to the services they need, where everyone is treated equally despite their differences and has the same opportunities.

In their dream world, Mateo’s parents should not worry about what happens next when he can no longer access tailored services in his town Saranda. Everyone has the right to a life without barriers.

That is why Mateo’s uncle Genti, a media personality, has become one of the most outspoken advocates for people with disabilities. He uses his popularity and reaches out to speak on behalf of those who do not have a voice. I have joined his fight.

As they say, society and civilization are measured by how it treats their vulnerable members. We can guarantee a life of dignity and opportunities for Mateo and everyone like him. We can do this. We must only try harder.


One day

Maybe Mateo will be history researcher or a game designer. I would like to believe he will be famous one day. I will have to hold on to that photo and show it to him then. I am sure he will remember.