Iroda, a woman-owned, parent-led, public organization in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, helps children with autism or neurodevelopmental disabilities with socializing, learning, and growing.
Iroda was founded by Lola Nasriddinova in 2011 as a result of struggles she faced with her child and based on a realization that families like hers need specialized support and resources.
“Our personal journey into this world of autism began 19 years ago with the birth of our child Kamol,” Lola remembered.
“From the very beginning, Кamol looked just like other babies, but after several months, things started to change considerably. He began to struggle, was always unsettled, and didn’t eat or sleep well. We took him to a doctor, and there it was: a diagnosis of autism. It felt like our whole world was crashing down around us.”
Lola learned that there are thousands of Tajik families with similar experience who wanted to help their children thrive. In Tajikistan, parents are often advised to send their children with developmental disabilities to institutions, where they are isolated and heavily medicated. Lola was inspired to create a different environment in which Kamol could grow and learn like other children.
An Idea Emerges
As Lola and Kamol went through different treatment and therapies, they learned how to navigate their new circumstances.
“I was looking at other children playing, going to school, and socializing, and thought about Kamol, whose days were mostly filled with therapy. People often don’t understand that children with autism need extra help learning many basic skills,” she described.
This understanding motivated Lola to create a specialized learning center where children with an autism diagnosis could find support in socializing, learning, and growing. In 2011, Iroda became one of the first parent-led organizations providing autism-specific services in Tajikistan. The center provides support for children and young people with autism from 18 months to 30 years. Iroda provides different programs, including early intervention programs, developmental programs, life skills program, inclusion support and many more. In addition to providing direct service, Iroda works hard in the areas of advocacy, training, and public awareness campaigns.
“Supporting families at the beginning of their journey can change their life. As we say, ‘Changing the beginning of the story changes the story,’” Lola explained.
Firuza is one parent who found support at Iroda. “It is here that my special child said his first words,” she said.
“Without medication or medical treatment, the staff at Iroda patiently helped him to understand...We had our first party, and he was so happy to be having fun with other children.”
Accelerating Growth with New Opportunities
Seeking new opportunities to expand and improve Iroda and reach new families, Lola turned to Local Impact, a new initiative from the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Local Impact connected Lola with a business acceleration program created by Accelerate Prosperity. The program lasted from October 2020 to January 2021 and helped Lola envision and develop a plan to expand her facility and serve more children.
An initiative of the Aga Khan Development Network, Accelerate Prosperity provides technical expertise, financing solutions, and market connections for rising entrepreneurs in Central and South Asia. Accelerate Prosperity provides a formal structure and tailored business advice for growing enterprises, with a focus on women-owned and operated businesses. Accelerate Prosperity’s financing is more risk-tolerant and patient than a typical bank loan, enabling companies like Iroda to access larger sums over longer periods, helping unlock their growth potential.
With the assistance of Accelerate Prosperity’s experts, Lola was able to enhance her knowledge of business modeling and create a pitch which was delivered to an independent investment committee. As a result, Lola secured a $14,400 investment from Accelerate Prosperity to strengthen and expand Iroda.
“The funds that I was able to receive were used to upgrade and repair a new center for ECD which will serve children from 1.5 to 6 years old. Also, the funds allowed us to purchase special equipment and materials for this center, organize training for the caregivers, and will enable us to create 10 additional jobs. Iroda now serves more than 350 children through all of our centers,” Lola explained proudly.
Iroda now has 44 employees, including 11 with developmental disabilities, and serves more than 350 children and youth from 18 months to 30 years old through two centers—an Early Childhood Development Center and Educational and Therapeutic Center. The Educational and Therapeutic Center provides a variety of programs, including daily life skills training and a youth development program, where children engage in art workshops, computer skills, adaptive sports and more. Lola prioritizes creating an environment that supports learning, continually upgrading equipment and training caregivers to better work with the children.
“My journey with Accelerate Prosperity, with the support of USAID and the Aga Khan Foundation, provided a huge opportunity for me to make my dream a reality,” Lola said.
“I was always praying for my child and others with the same fate in this world to be accepted and appreciated, despite their differences. I believe that this center will create a great opportunity for them to learn and socialize with others while navigating their way in this life.”
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