Breaking down the barriers for people with disabilities in Gaza

People with disabilities are among the most excluded groups in Gaza. Facing social isolation and frequent denial of their rights, they are more likely to live in poverty and experience violence. For International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we spoke to Diaa, who has a visual disability, to hear how he is breaking down the barriers to participation in his community.

Diaa Abu Sweirah lives with the frightening reality that he could permanently lose his vision at any time. He has lived with a partial visual disability since he was six years old and regularly suffers from severe eye infections and conjunctivitis, which have led to weak vision in both eyes. Despite having corrective surgery, his vision continues to deteriorate.

Diaa lives in Al Sawarha, considered one of the most marginalised villages in central Gaza due to the fact that the local authority considers it to be an “illegally” located Bedouin community. It has no paved roads and little access to water and sanitation services. As a person with a disability, Diaa faces stigma and many barriers to participating in society, and a lack of access to services and employment opportunities. “I’ve started accepting the situation and gradually living my life,” said Diaa.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, there are 255,224 people with disabilities across the occupied Palestinian territory, including almost 7% of the population of Gaza. People with disabilities in Gaza are disproportionately affected by the dire socio-economic and humanitarian crisis, caused largely by the 14-year blockade and illegal closure, and repeated military offensives. This is particularly clear when it comes to employment, with more than 90% of people with disabilities being unemployed.

Life improved dramatically for Diaa when he got involved in the Nuseirat Rehabilitation and Social Training Association (NRSTA)’s activities. Working in partnership with Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), NRSTA empowers people with disabilities to advocate for their rights, provides them with temporary job opportunities, and funds small projects for them to be economically empowered in their communities.

Diaa received psychological support and took part in skills training and educational workshops, which significantly improved his capabilities and his knowledge of his rights. He also received two months of on-the-job training which helped him to start his own project. “This opportunity was a quantum leap in my life,” said Diaa. “I used the money I earnt during the on-the-job training to start my own grocery project.” His new project selling groceries allowed him to have a decent standard of living and helped him to improve the living conditions of his family – who live in a small, crowded house where access to clean water is restricted.

Diaa working at his grocery.

After Diaa’s success, NRSTA awarded him another small grant to expand his grocery. But the overlapping crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and Israel’s 11-day military offensive on Gaza in May have hampered this expansion. Nevertheless, Diaa believes that determination and patience are the keys to reaching success and he hopes to continue his project in future.

“I hope that NRSTA will continue supporting people with disabilities, providing counselling and increasing their opportunities for employment so that they can highlight their skills and abilities,” said Diaa. “I also hope we can all continue to emphasise the rights and concerns of people with disabilities.”

You can support the work of NRSTA by making a donation to MAP today.


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