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Girl with Down syndrome bullied at school; her country’s president steps in

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Stevo Pendarovski

Office of the President of the Republic of North Macedonia

Cerith Gardiner - published on 02/12/22

The North Macedonian president, Stevo Pendarovski, sent a powerful message to the entire country.

The city of Gostivar in North Macedonia got a surprise this week when President Stevo Pendarovski turned up to escort an 11-year-old girl to school.

Embla Ademi, who has Down syndrome, was being bullied at school. In fact, according to a tweet by Seb Starcevic the little girl had been “separated from her classmates when their parents complained about her being in the same class as their kids.”

When the southeastern European country’s president heard of the situation, he decided to step in — quite literally!

Pendarovski visited Embla’s home with some gifts for the little girl, and spoke to her parents about the different obstacles they face on a day-to-day basis. They discussed potential solutions, according to a press release from the president’s office.

He then decided to send a very powerful message: He gave Embla a presidential escort to school, walking along the snowy streets and holding her hand at certain points, as reported by CNN.

His press release had a big impact:

The President said that the behavior of those who endanger children’s rights is unacceptable, especially when it comes to children with atypical development. They should not only enjoy the rights they deserve, but also feel equal and welcome in the school desks and schoolyard. It is our obligation, as a state, but also as individuals, and the key element in this common mission is empathy.”

The press release also quoted the president as saying:

It will help children like Embla, but it will also help us learn from them how to sincerely rejoice, share and be in solidarity. We are all equal in this society. I came here to give my support and to raise awareness that inclusion is a basic principle.”

Pendarovski also lent his support to Embla’s parents in their work for the protection of their daughter’s rights, and for others facing similar situations.

Prejudices in that context are the main obstacle to building an equal and just society for all… the line ministries and competent institutions have a legal and moral obligation to provide inclusive education, in which the main focus is on developing skills and abilities in children with different developmental processes, emphasizing the need to sensitize the public on these issues.”

In his bid to raise awareness about the challenges of Embla and other children like her, Pendarovski has shown the country — and the world — that he takes these matters to heart.

Considering Pendarovski’s parents were both teachers, his wife is a pediatric doctor and professor at the Faculty of Dentistry, and the president himself, an Orthodox Christian who studied law at university, he is well placed to affect change for vulnerable children who need to be cherished.

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