Across the city at Poraka's Day Centre for adults, the light-filled central room, with its open- plan kitchen and large work tables, is a hive of activity. The Centre aims to help users to be more independent in their daily lives. Each morning, half the group visits the shops and supermarket just below the Centre, to buy food for the day’s meals. The other half is in charge of the cooking. Other activities at the Centre include art, music, and – since 2010 – sexuality education.
One of the most engaged participants in the group sessions is Lara, 27, who has behavioural problems and learning disabilities. She is full of energy, bustling round the Centre’s kitchen and taking a leading role in the cooking. Every day she travels alone on the bus. It's an important mark of independence – but one that means she must know how to keep herself safe. She has been coming to Poraka for five years.
“I love to come here, because I spend my time working a lot,” Lara says. “I like that I’m active all the time. Working in the kitchen is my favourite part – when we prepare lunch, chopping the vegetables. I also enjoy the art classes.”
What does she feel about the sexuality education sessions? “I feel good about them and I find them useful,” she says. “If someone wants to force us, we can push them to protect ourselves, to defend ourselves. And there are some things that you can do at home only, when you’re alone, but not in public places.”
“We learn about sad and happy faces, and about family. We learn about sexual relations and body parts. Boyfriends and girlfriends are when they love each other. When they hang around together: when they kiss. They sit on each other’s laps. Friends don’t do that.”
Lara says she had a boyfriend once, and would like one again – if she can find one. “I need to behave appropriately, not be aggressive with him, and use a condom,” she says.
People with learning disabilities (PWLD) face high levels of stigma in Macedonia. In 2009, H.E.R.A was one of four Member Associations offered funding by the IPPF European Network to develop knowledge on working with PWLD.