“Without this centre Ahmad would definitely not be in school”

by Wafa Dakwar, MAP’s Senior Programme Officer in Lebanon

Samah, a Palestinian mother-of-three, lives in Beddawi refugee camp in north Lebanon. Her seven-year-old son, Ahmad, has been receiving support from the Community Based Rehabilitation Association’s (CBRA) centre for the past three years. CBRA, a new local partner for Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), is one of the very few organisations in north Lebanon providing multi-disciplinary specialised services for children with disabilities and developmental delays. Samah recently told us about the care and support Ahmad and her family are receiving from CBRA with MAP’s support:

“Ever since Ahmad was young, I felt that he was different from his brother and sister. Whenever I talked about it, my family used to tell me that he is just very active and spoiled. I used to feel that I was failing as a parent because I was not able to cope with and control his sometimes challenging behaviour.

“Three years ago, I received a call from Ahmad’s nursery. The principal explained to me that Ahmad’s behaviour was disruptive and was making it difficult for the teachers to manage the classroom. She suggested that I visit CBRA’s centre for advice. She also helped me set up an appointment.

“At CBRA the specialists did a comprehensive assessment of Ahmad’s condition and referred me to a doctor for further testing. My son was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, a condition that I did not know much about at the time. The specialists at CBRA centre worked very hard with me. They explained everything that I needed to know about his condition and helped me understand how to better deal with Ahmad to get him to be more comfortable and collaborative. They also taught me how to manage the family dynamics in a way that responds to Ahmad’s specific needs but does not affect his siblings. This matter was particularly important because Ahmad’s younger brother felt that I didn’t give him the same amount of attention.

“Now I feel that I am an expert in this issue, and I can help mothers of children who have a similar condition. Many parents refuse to admit that their child has a problem and needs additional help. I don’t blame them, because facing the negative attitudes and stigma related to disability is very difficult. Parents are worried about what other people in the camp will think and say. Unfortunately, many children then end up not receiving the interventions they need and thus living with otherwise preventable consequences, such as dropping out of school at early age.

“Negative attitudes and hurtful comments are something my family lives with all the time. For example, today when I told the taxi driver that I want to go to CBRA centre, he kept on staring at Ahmad trying to figure out what his problem was, and when he failed to do so, he asked me if my son has a mental impairment! My family and my husband’s family pressure us to stop taking Ahmad to therapy sessions and to hide his condition as the stigma affects the whole family. I don’t listen, especially that I see my son benefitting and improving – which is all that matters to me.

“I feel that more work needs to be done at a community level to change people’s attitudes towards disability and persons with disability. All organisations, schools, and institutions should be able to receive and deal with children with different types of special needs. Whenever I enroll Ahmad in any extracurricular activity such as karate or swimming classes, a few days later the supervisors expel him because he is hyperactive or too difficult to manage. The team at CBRA are helping Ahmad avoid such problems at school; they always visit his school and explain to the teachers how to work with him. Nonetheless, sometimes difficulties are still encountered due to the large number of students in class or unwillingness of teachers to collaborate.

“I am very grateful to CBRA team as their support has made me a stronger and better mother to Ahmad. I feel happy when I come to the centre and meet with the team and other mothers. I attend sessions with Ahmad, and the specialists train me to repeat certain exercises with him at home to maximise the benefit. Without this centre, I don’t know what would have happened to Ahmad; he would definitely be out of school. The cost of private specialised services in Lebanon is very high and I would have not been able to afford it.”

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Names changed to protect identity