Films for Everyone. How “Workshop of Dreams” in Lviv Overcomes the Stigma of People with Mental Disability

How the DOCU/CLUB Network of documentary film clubs encourages people in Ukrainian towns and villages to solve local problems on their own, and what results they manage to achieve.

Reprinted from the Sheriffs for New Communities Information Platform.

31 January 2024

Halyna Shtohryn works for the Mental Health for Ukraine project, co-manages “Workshop of Dreams,” an NGO for youth with mental disabilities, and moderates a Docudays UA documentary film club.

 “‘Workshop of Dreams’ brings together people who want to help youth with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities acquire new skills, socialize, and find new friends. After all, everyone has the right to support and respect for their dignity.” 


Halyna Shtohryn

In addition to day care centers for people with mental disabilities, the “Workshop” opened two assisted living facilities in Lviv.

“Accommodation in such homes is guaranteed by law.  Elderly people or people with disabilities, with very different disorders, have to live in society as well.

Still, they need support. Some disabilities do not allow them to solve everyday issues on their own. Many people with disabilities can manage on their own, but there are also those who need more support,” Halyna says.

Most of the inhabitants of assisted living facilities have previously been either in boarding schools (neuropsychiatric or youth departments of so-called children's boarding schools) or people who have lived in psychiatric hospitals.


Celebration at “Workshop of Dreams”

“Due to their diagnosis, they are not supposed to have lived there. People are placed in such institutions to avoid throwing them out on the street. They don't receive treatment, they just live there. This creates a problem of excessive off-duty workload for hospital staff. And this is also a problem for the person, who suffers greatly from this institutionalization,” says Halyna.

“‘Workshop of Dreams’” has opened two houses where 11 young people live with assistants. Their assistants are social workers who accompany the residents even in the simplest things. For example, they help them learn how to cook or use public transportation. At first glance, it seems simple, but if you have lived in closed institutions for 33 years and have never taken a tram in your life, it's a different story,” explains the coordinator of “Workshop of Dreams.” 

The house is now home to a young man who has dreamed of taking a tram all his life. “He was so happy when he took it for the first time,” Halyna laughs.


People with mental disabilities learn life skills at the “Workshop”

"’Workshop’ socializes and helps people with mental disabilities learn the necessary life skills. We understand that some people will need a lower level of support in the future, while others will need this help for the rest of their lives. This is the point of assisted living,” explains Halyna.

"Workshop of Dreams" is determined to build new centers for people with mental disabilities and develop its residents. The “Workshop of Dreams” team also strives to overcome the stigma and build bridges between “social bubbles” with documentary films.


Halyna Shtohryn heard about the DOCU/CLUB Network and the opportunity to become a moderator of a documentary film club from a colleague and was eager to create such a club at “Workshop of Dreams.”

“We were a very small organization. There were advantages to it: we were more flexible in terms of our free time, which allowed us to conduct more screenings.

At the same time, when you're so small, it's hard to make the world listen to you. You have neither a particularly big budget for promotion nor a broad enough outreach. When we found out about DOCU/CLUB, we thought it would be awesome to have some means of communication with an external audience," says Halyna.


Prior to the opening of the film club, the participants of the “Workshop of Dreams” project managed to communicate with specialists who were already working in the field of supporting people with mental disabilities. However, Halyna wanted to go beyond the bubble and speak to an audience that had never had close contact with people with autism spectrum disorders or Down syndrome before. 

“That's how we started working in the context of raising awareness about mental disorders. We mostly screen the films ‘Grown Ups’ by Chilean director Maite Alberdi, the Norwegian film ‘Carla and Nordahl’ by Elisabeth Aspelin, ‘The Normal Autistic Film’ by Czech director Miroslav Janek, and the Finnish film ‘Punk Syndrome’ by Jukka Karkkainen and J-P Passi,” says the film club moderator.

Through documentaries, the “Workshop’s” film club showed the inner world of a person with a mental disability.

During a screening for social workers

“During discussions with the audience, we manage to ‘pick out’ issues of a personal nature. The viewers may be asking themselves for the first time why a person behaves this way,” says Halyna.

Inside the bubble, the film club cooperated with the organizations Emmaus and L’Arche which care for people with mental disabilities. They also held events for students of the Ukrainian Catholic University and social workers on building relationships with people with mental disabilities.

“The UCU has a number of programs with a social function. It is a Catholic university, and it has both spiritual and educational missions. We’ve also held screenings there. Once, we organized an event for fathers. They have programs that allow fathers to become more aware and understanding of their child's diagnosis. The event for fathers was especially valuable, because usually, in our society, the responsibility for children with disabilities lies only with the mother," says Halyna.


With the support of the DOCU/CLUB Network, “Workshop of Dreams” launched a special video course, “Honestly. Correctly. Simply.” It honestly, correctly and simply tells viewers what disability, Down syndrome, and autism spectrum disorders are; how to communicate correctly with people with mental disabilities; what vocabulary to choose and what to avoid.

Participants of the screening for fathers

“I think we manage to reach people outside our bubble. For the general public, the topic of mental disability is still taboo and not fully understandable. Thanks to our course, ordinary people have seen that someone is working with this topic, and they are doing quite well,” Halyna smiles.

"The Dream Workshop fights stigma in its own way it has become a place that helps young people with mental disabilities socialize and develop their potential.

“Here, everyone can be themselves, accepted and awesome. We prove there is place for all people in society,” says Halyna.

Photo from the archive of Halyna Shtohryn

The development of the DOCU/CLUB Network is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Embassy of Sweden in Ukraine, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the Fondation de France.

P.S. The Community Law Centers Project in Ukraine is implemented by the Charitable Organization "Charity and Health Foundation" and the NGO "Legal Space Information Resource Center" with the support of the Charles Stewart Mott International Foundation. The views expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Stewart Mott International Foundation.

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