Protecting the rights of Palestinian children with disabilities in Lebanon

by Wafa Dakwar, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP’s) Senior Programme Officer in Lebanon

Soha is a mother of two living in El Buss refugee camp in South Lebanon. Soha’s seven-year-old daughter, Manal, is one of the children benefiting from early intervention services provided by the MAP-supported Sour Community Disability Project (SCDP). The project is run in partnership with the Palestinian Women Humanitarian Organization, and it provides multidisciplinary specialised services for children with disabilities and physiotherapy services for adults with disabilities.

Manal was born prematurely at the sixth month of pregnancy and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy shortly after birth. Soha used to work as an Operating Room Nurse and so she was familiar with Manal’s condition and the care she would need growing up. She also knew about the importance of early intervention, and the organisations offering such services in the Tyre area. Thus, when Manal was one years old and after undergoing a successful surgery that corrected a problem she had with her vision , Soha decided to seek SCDP’s services.

At SCDP’s centre, the team of specialists performed an assessment for Manal’s condition and together with Soha and her husband developed an initial intervention plan. For six years now, Manal has been receiving different services from the centre depending on her evolving developmental needs. For example, she is currently receiving physiotherapy, occupational therapy, special education and psychological support sessions which are helping with her psychomotor development (including skills such as movement, coordination, and dexterity). Soha also believes that the psychologist is helping her and Manal communicate better with one another.

Manal is enrolled in mainstream education; but she is facing many difficulties. Soha thinks that the curriculum is not suitable for a child with Manal’s condition and that the teachers lack the skills to work with children with special needs. “The teacher asks my daughter to write a paragraph when she struggles to write one sentence. She is unable to write and concentrate like the other children in her class and the teachers do not give her the assistance and attention she needs. For example, she needs a teacher to be helping her and guiding her all the time when she is writing. It is not possible for the teacher to do that when there are many students in the class,” Soha explained. Soha is aware that Manal would benefit more in a specialised school where the teaching style and the curriculum are more appropriate for children with special needs; but the tuition fees of such schools in Lebanon are very high- around $7000 per year- and she is unable to afford it.

The cost of medical care and educational support for Manal has put a strain on the finances of the family, especially as Soha had to quit her job to take care of Manal and her younger sister during the day. “The cost of medicine and injections needed for Manal per month is $1000. The cost of these medicines is not covered by UNRWA nor any other organisation. We struggle every month to come up with this amount of money,” said Soha. Soha looks forward to a future where the rights of people with disabilities are respected and they have access to the medical care they need and to suitable educational services.

Soha thanked MAP for supporting SCDP’s centre as it gives her daughter free-of-charge access to essential services which support her development.

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