New ways of working under COVID-19 to support Palestinian children with disabilities

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

During emergencies the rights and needs of people with disabilities are often neglected. The UN has warned that people with disabilities are among those groups disproportionately affected by COVID-19 (coronavirus) due to “attitudinal, environmental and institutional barriers that are reproduced in the COVID-19 response.” 

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Lebanon, the MAP-supported Ghassan Kanafani Cultural Foundation’s Habilitation preschool, in Mar Elias camp, Beirut, has been working hard to continue providing essential services to Palestinian children with disabilities. The preschool provides educational and rehabilitation services to more than one hundred children with disabilities each year.

Mrs. Nahla, the Director of the preschool and Senior Occupational therapist, explained to MAP how their work has been organised since lockdown and the impact of some of their new ways of working.

“We look forward to resuming our centre-based activities with the children but for the time being it is important that the children are not exposed to risks related to COVID-19. After consulting with the family doctor and specialists, it was agreed to carry out all our activities remotely. For example, we train parents and provide them with instructions and illustrations so they can conduct exercises with their children at home. They either record the session or provide verbal feedback to the specialists after they have carried out the exercises.

“Before each session, therapist calls the parents and ensures that the tools needed for the session are available. As children have not been attending the centre, we have reallocated the transportation budget to buy kits for children including tools that can be used in the home-based sessions.

“Working this way, although it has limitations, has allowed us to work with the whole family including members who do not usually accompany the child to the centre. For instance, we were able to work with, Hasan*, a younger brother of a child with autism who was very inpatient with him. Through video calls with the family, we were able to help Hasan understand his brother and how to better communicate with him. This has helped a more positive relationship to be established between the two brothers.

“Our relationship with the parents has also become stronger. When we call and follow up with the children, even when they are not coming to the centre, parents feel supported and that we care about them and their children.”

A mother of six-year-old Rim*, a child with autism who is supported by the preschool, told MAP:  

“Today I took Rim with me to visit my sister. I saw Rim bring her toys to play with her cousin. It was the first time I saw Rim approaching another child to play with them. I was very happy and started recording videos. The first thing I wanted to do was to call the preschool team to tell them about this progress, a huge achievement in fact.

“My daughter used to like to eat sweets and sugary foods, but now she is following the advice of her pre-school teachers and therapists and asking to eat healthy food such as fruits, meat, eggs, and other meals I cook. She is also able to eat without assistance. Rim is depending more and more on herself. All this progress is the result of the hard work of the preschool team. I am very grateful to them.

The Habilitation Preschool therapists are the definition of optimism, love, goodness, ethics, and humanity. My daughter and I would like to thank them very much. I respect and appreciate their work a lot because despite the difficult conditions in Lebanon, the COVID-19 outbreak and our inability to attend the centre, they continued to follow-up with our children and to support and help us. They give us energy and help us avoid many problems.

I consider that my daughter and I won and are still winning, and we have a long way to go even though we have made great progress so far. This progress can be easily noticed by anyone who knew my daughter before she enrolled in the Habilitation preschool. The difference between the centre’s approach and some others is massive; some tried to blamed me and make me feel guilty because my daughter has this condition, while the preschool team understood my situation and helped me!

I want to tell parents of children who have a similar condition as my daughter that there is nothing impossible; with determination, commitment, thinking, and strength you can achieve anything you want. Just be patient and take your time.”

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

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*Names changed to protect identity

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