AP Photos: Disabled Romanian children given chance to shine

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In this Nov. 3, 2019, photograph a child with Down syndrome jokingly gestures to the audience while presenting ponchos displaying drawings inspired by children, during a fashion show dubbed "heART Couture" in Bucharest, Romania.Children with Down syndrome staged a fashion show and performed along a ballet ensemble, two milestone events for the inclusion of people with disabilities in Romania's social life, 30 years after the fall of communism following a violent uprising at the end of 1989.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

BUCHAREST – During Romania's communist era, children with disabilities were shunned, often locked away in institutions or kept at home and deprived of schooling and social interactions.

Recent shows in which children with Down syndrome had the starring roles illustrate how much that has changed since communism fell in 1989.

At one event in Bucharest, youngsters with the genetic disorder staged a fashion show parading their own creations. The children also performed with a ballet ensemble on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities in early December.

“The two shows were their chance to shine, to feel important and talented, to feel they bring a contribution to the world we live in," said Georgeta Bucur, who leads the Down Plus Association, which promotes the inclusion in Romanian society of people with Down Syndrome.

Since the pair of events, there have been others in the Romanian capital.

Bucur emphasized the positive impact such events have on children with Down syndrome, though she said that societal prejudice against them still exists. She also stressed the love and warmth the children give to those around them.

“They teach us a new lesson every single day,” Bucur said. "Spending even a little time together with them will make anyone change their views.”

Being born with either a mental or physical disability in pre-1989 Romania was almost equivalent to a life prison sentence. The unluckiest ones were surrendered to state care immediately after birth, which usually meant a lifetime inside institutions.