“COVID-19 came like the final blow”: Barriers grow for Palestinians with disabilities

In Lebanon, Palestinian refugees with disabilities face considerable challenges to their day-to-day life, with a lack of adequate services and degrading terminology and attitudes still common. The arrival of COVID-19 has exacerbated those challenges.

Supporting people with disabilities is one of Medical Aid for Palestinians’ (MAP’s) main priorities. We partner with five multidisciplinary health and rehabilitation centres in Tyre, Saida, Beirut and Tripoli. These centres ensure early detection of learning difficulties, developmental delays and other disorders in children, and provide regular physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, special needs education, and psychosocial support services. Importantly they also support people with disabilities to change practices and challenge public perceptions of disability.

We spoke to Hisham, the Coordinator of the MAP-supported Sour Community Disability Project in El Bass Camp, about the impact of COVID-19 on Palestinian communities in Lebanon, in particular on those with disabilities, and how they are adapting their work to continue safely supporting children with disabilities.

Hi Hisham, can you tell us how COVID-19 has impacted Palestinian refugees in Lebanon?

“Palestinians have been facing increased economic hardships since last year. It started with the Minister of Labour’s crackdown on undocumented foreign labour- which affected Palestinians who are not allowed to [link] practice many professions in Lebanon. Later on, the country closed down for months due to the country-wide protests against the deteriorating economic conditions. This means that Palestinian day labourers are usually unable to work. Meanwhile, banks started imposing severe restrictions on cash withdrawals, and the scarcity of foreign currency in the country became evident. This situation caused many businesses to close or layoff staff and the prices of goods have significantly increased. The poorest and the most vulnerable, including Palestinian refugees, were impacted the most. The COVID-19 outbreak came like the final blow.

"Nowadays, everyone is struggling and concerned about securing the minimum wage that allows a dignified living in these circumstances. Luckily, some organisations have recently started distributing food aid and hygiene kits in some camps. Our project team has coordinated with these organisations to ensure that people with disabilities are not left out.”

How is COVID-19 affecting people with disabilities? How have you adapted your work to continue supporting people with disabilities and their families?

“Children with disabilities are now staying home all the time which is making them, and their parents, stressed. The project specialists are communicating with the parents and training them to implement simple activities with their children at home to maintain the acquired skills. Parents provide feedback to the specialists or video-record the exercise and ask for comments. The specialists also respond to all the parents’ and children’s queries. It is important for us that the parents and the children feel that there is someone to support them as needed.  

“We noticed that parents’ concerns go beyond taking their children to rehabilitation or therapy sessions. They are now worried about more basic things such as being able to feed their children. With families suffering financial difficulties, there is a concern that the needs of children with disabilities, which tend to be more or higher in cost, including medicine, might not be met. So particular attention needs to be given to people with disabilities in response plans.

“During this period all group activities were suspended to avoid risk of transmission through gatherings. All in-person activities are now implemented online. Information about COVID-19 and advice on precautionary measures suitable for every child’s need are provided to families through phone calls. Also, simple educational materials with visual illustrations are posted regularly on the project’s social media pages.”

Did the outbreak highlight any needs or issues in existing services?

“The outbreak taught us many things. We used to face challenges such as bad weather that would prevent children from getting to the centre for their therapy sessions or had difficulties getting fathers involved in activities. The COVID-19 crisis taught us that we can find or create ways to overcome obstacles. We had to rely on online and remote methods for raising awareness and reaching families. These methods have proved to be effective. So, we can use such methods more in the future; for example, in advocacy activities, to reach a larger audience, and to involve hard-to-reach groups.

“There should be particular attention given to people with disabilities to ensure that their essential needs are fulfilled at times of emergency or crisis.”

“I hope that this situation soon ends and everyone remains safe.”

Thanks for talking to us Hisham, and the important work you and your colleagues do.

Please donate today, to help MAP continue supporting Palestinians with disabilities amid the coronavirus pandemic:


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