Palestinian Circus School: “My favourite bit is acrobatics and jumping on the trampoline”

By Aseel Baidoun, Medical Aid for Palestinians’ (MAP’s) Advocacy and Communications Officer in the West Bank

Reda is 18 years old and lives in Ramallah in the West Bank with his mother and two younger siblings. Reda has Down syndrome and for the past six years has been going to al Nahda Women's Association, where he studies maths and Arabic.  

“I wake up every day at seven in the morning, I go straight to the washroom, brush my teeth, wash my face and then I get dressed and eat some cookies and drink tea and then I go by bus to my class. You know, I prepare the clothes I want to wear the night before. I arrange them neatly and set them next to my bed,” Reda explained.

MAP’s new partner, the Palestinian Circus School, brings circus skills to more than 300 children and youths in the West Bank, including people with learning disabilities (referred to as intellectual disabilities outside the UK). MAP’s partnership with the Palestinian Circus School supports young people in Palestine, including those with disabilities, to change practices and challenge public perceptions of disability. By integrating people with learning disabilities in the circus school, the centre is promoting the rights of people with disabilities to full inclusion and participation in society. The centre also helps increase participants’ access to physical exercise and activities in support of their overall physical, mental and social wellbeing.

Reda was selected by the school’s trainers to be part of the weekly circus training every Thursday. “My favourite part about the circus training is the acrobat moves and jumping on the trampoline. I think I am the best one at the acrobatic moves. I would love to perform in public but I am too shy to perform in front of girls. I love my trainer Naif, he is the best,” Reda enthusiastically shared.

The children with disabilities that participate at the Circus School training are enrolled at Al Nahda or Star Mountain educational centres.

Sultan, one of Reda’s teachers at al Nahda, said, “The circus training keeps Reda and his eight colleagues motivated all week and excited about Thursdays. We take them by bus to the Circus School. Over the years, they have built close relationships with each other as well as with their trainers. You can feel the bond and love in every training. The students became more disciplined and more physically fit and they’ve gained self-confidence. They’ve learned how to cooperate in a team. I think the Circus School is one of the best activities in their week.”

Reda was the first child of his mother, Razan. “I was in the delivery room in a hospital in Ramallah waiting for the nurses to come with my new-born boy. My husband and I were overwhelmed with happiness. Then a very rude nurse came and said to me, ‘your child has Down syndrome, discuss with your husband what you plan to do with him.’ And she left the room. I still remember her face well. We were in complete shock. We had no idea.  My breast milk disappeared after a few days. I think because of the shock and sadness. I isolated myself and stayed home for six months. Afterwards, I fell in love with Reda and I started to accept the fact that he will be different. No one in society supported me or guided me on how to raise a child with Down syndrome. I had to do it on my own through books and later on through Google. People stare at Reda all the time in the street and it makes me angry to a point I have to tell them, ‘what are you staring at?’”

“Reda is so sensitive and he is obsessed with cleaning. He loves food. He lost his father a few years back due to a sudden heart attack and Reda never accepted the idea that he won’t come back. He used to be anxious and stressed on a daily basis waiting for his dad to come home. He could not accept the idea of death. I had to seek professional psychosocial support to help Reda move on. And he did,” Razan continued.

“When I grow up I want to be a heart doctor to prevent heart attacks from happening,” Reda said.

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