Kosice (Slovakia)

The Third European Family Conference was held in Slovakia one sunny weekend in September 1999 in the beautiful city of Kosice. There were over fifty people from sixteen European countries, mainly parents and other family members and a few professionals, with a large group from Central and Eastern Europe. We came from a wide variety of personal backgrounds and experiences, but these differences are irrelevant. 

Just being with other parents of a deafblind child brings immediate understanding and a rapport which crosses all boundaries, because we know we all share the same hopes and concerns for our child, and have the same needs and feelings, no matter what our own situation might be. The theme of the conference was “Parents as Resources -How Parents can help other Parents and Professionals”.

The aim was to exchange knowledge and ideas which could be of benefit to other parents and professionals, particularly in countries where specialist services and support are limited or non existent. We started with talks by two professionals. Jacques Souriau from France and Joff McGill from Sense UK talked about the different ways in which parents and professionals can work together, help each other, and offer mutual support. Joff also discussed the value of Family Networks and Parent Support Groups. Peggy Freeman, who was a founder member of Sense in 1955, talked about the early struggles of setting up a parent support group, and the importance of parents working together and fighting for services for their children. This was followed by Ton Michiels from The Netherlands telling of his experiences of lobbying his government.

Raija Rantalainen from Finland gave a stunning presentation, accompanied by a video running in the background, of the life of her son. She shared her emotions with us, and talked about what we all feel but often don’t dare to share with others. She also told us about the developing contact between the Finnish and Estonian parents. The final session was about transition from child to adult, with papers and discussions being led by myself, Miriam Brtiggemann, and Jacques Souriau.

It was a very interesting and informative weekend, and hopefully those of us who have struggled in the past were able to offer some hope and inspiration to those whose battles lie ahead. There were a lot of bonds formed which I know will continue, and I am sure that we will still be helping and supporting each other in the years ahead.

As always the most important times were those shared moments with other parents, when we could talk to each other and share experiences and feelings openly and honestly, and know that we understood each other. It is those times which make Family Conferences so important and valuable, and give us the strength and inspiration to help us through all the good and bad times ahead.

The conference was organised jointly by the Evanjelicka Deafblind School in Slovakia and Sense International, and enormous thanks are due to Janka Sarisska, Juraj Pistl and Emanuela Brahamsha for all their hard work in arranging such good accommodation, food and drink!, entertainment and all the big and little things that ensured the conference was such a success.

It will take a major catastrophe to keep me away from the next one.