In Albania, the Church Is Overturning Down Syndrome's Stigma

How the country's Christians are bringing long-needed support to disabled children.
In Albania, the Church Is Overturning Down Syndrome's Stigma
Image: Cydil Waggoner

As a Christian, Ada Kita of Tirana, Albania, wanted to find a way to demonstrate the compassion of Jesus to her city. Initially, she considered founding a program for the thousands of children living on Tirana’s streets. Eventually, though, she and her husband, International Church Fellowship (ICF) pastor Altin Kita, found insight into a forgotten population in an unexpected place: their own family.

In 2004, Altin’s sister Valentina gave birth to her son Jonathan, a child with Down syndrome. In Albania, if parents discover their child will have Down syndrome prior to birth, medical professionals encourage abortion or provide information about planning for the child to be raised in an orphanage. When parents like Valentina keep their children, they have little or no financial, emotional, and instructional support.

“My sister was heartbroken,” Altin said, recalling his nephew’s diagnosis.

In 2008, however, with help from ICF Tirana, Ada and her friend Annette Van Gorkum of the Netherlands co-founded the Jonathan Center: Albania’s premier organization for development, care, and advocacy for individuals with Down’s and their families. Together, they are changing how people in Tirana and other cities in Albania view children with Down syndrome.

‘The Children Are Not Seen as Worthy’

Altin admitted that before Jonathan was born, he didn’t even have words or a name for Down syndrome. He knew that something was different, but he didn’t know why or how to interact with people with Down’s—it was so rare to see them out and about. Even discussing the subject was taboo.

Ada blames the vestiges of communism for the pervasive, negative attitude regarding Down syndrome. ...

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