A visit to The Wish Centre

The journey from Chişinău to Călărași was just over an hour to The Wish Centre for disabled and autistic children and youths. This centre is a beacon for many local families who are raising children with special needs. Currently it is the only place in the region they can turn to for help and guidance.

Eugenia, who is just over 30, saw her life take a dramatic turn a decade ago when her sister lost her parental rights, and Eugenia found herself looking after her niece Ana, a baby with Down syndrome.

“I was at a loss for what to do or where to turn, having my own infant daughter. Then I learned of this Centre—it became our lifeline. Since 2017, we’ve been regulars, coming in twice a week, and luckily, we live close by. Ana adores it here and really looks forward to her sessions with the speech therapist. For all of us, her progress is evident—she’s been accepted into a mainstream school.”

As I speak with Eugenia, the therapy session concludes, and a fresh wave of children bursts into the wide hallway, for playtime. Samuel, always to be found with a book, is at the heart of the activity. At 8 years old, he lives with Down syndrome and associated heart problems. Samuel is one of Viorica’s four children; Viorica is 35 and she is a volunteer at the Wish:

“For years, we searched for a kindergarten and school where Samuel would be treated like any other child. Yet, we were constantly told ‘your child ‘isn’t capable’. Accepting his diagnosis was also a long struggle. However, after visiting specialists at The Wish and undergoing several therapy sessions, Samuel began to recognise colours and pronounce words. His love for reading and playing has grown, and with it, his confidence.I believe in my son’s progress, and I cannot imagine our future without this Centre.”

Viorica’s family is one of the hundreds facing daily struggles due to insufficient community support. Children with special needs often face neglect or indifference, and their status remains low throughout Moldova. In the Călărași district alone, official records show 353 disabled children under 18 requiring constant care. Most are confined to their homes, isolated from their peers.

The Centre’s team has shared evidence of the critical need for their services in Călărași, highlighting the shortage of qualified specialists, social services, and rehabilitation centres. There is a glaring lack of support and funding at all levels to meet the needs of these children. The rural areas lack the infrastructure necessary for young people’s successful integration into society. Issues like delayed diagnoses, referrals, dysfunctional families, parents’ fears of institutionalisation, and low disability awareness persist. These issues have lasted for decades in Moldova, rooted in Soviet-era attitudes.

Nonetheless, the tide is slowly turning, thanks to the efforts of parents and NGOs leading the charge to support families of children with special needs. The Wish Centre, housed in a repurposed private residence, was established in 2001 by parents of a child with cerebral palsy who chose not to send their child to a boarding school. Instead, they provided home education, followed by higher education in the Netherlands, leading to his success as an IT specialist.

This year, with St Gregory’s grant, The Wish is offering tailored therapy and education programmes for 18 children with Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, and speech delays. We’re aiming at enhancing the children’s communication, literacy and life skills, as well as their physical endurance and co-ordination.

Crucially, this project also fosters a supportive community for families to forge friendships and gain confidence. Natalya, mother to eight-year-old Adelina who has Down syndrome and a heart condition, recounts her journey from denial and depression to finding assistance and understanding at The Wish. Here, Adelina has started articulating sounds and learning the alphabet, thanks to the dedication of exceptional specialists.

Natalya and other parents express profound thanks to all who support The Wish and the futures it shapes.

Currently operating at half capacity due to funding shortages, The Wish is unable to serve many families who could benefit from its therapies. Our goal is to extend support to more families, especially those in remote villages. Your assistance will make this possible.