Living with a disability in Gaza: Lama’s journey to independence

Women and girls with disabilities are at a much greater risk of becoming victims of violence, neglect or exploitation. In Gaza, the situation is made worse by Israel’s 15-year illegal closure and blockade, which limits the availability of and access to essential services, such as education and healthcare, as well as economic opportunities for people with disabilities. This is why it is important that women and girls with disabilities understand and are able to attain their rights.  

The Culture and Free Thought Association (CFTA), Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)’s partner in Gaza, teaches social and life skills to women and girls with intellectual disabilities through the Women’s Health Centre they run in Bureij refugee camp, in central Gaza. The centre also provides behavioural and occupational therapy, counselling and, in some cases, medication. Each person has a tailored support plan depending on their needs. 

Lama*, 22, lives with her parents and six siblings in Bureij refugee camp. She has difficulties in a range of cognitive tasks related to conceptual understanding (language, literacy, numeracy), social skills (empathy, interpersonal communication, relationships) and practical knowledge (personal care, organisation). 

Her family and staff at the Women’s Health Centre described Lama as being usually nervous and unable to socialise or communicate her needs. She would tear up clothes to express her nervousness and would sometimes act aggressively when her family failed to understand her. Lama was completely dependent on her mother in all her daily activities such as showering, getting dressed and understanding directions such as left and right.    

Lama was enrolled in a psychosocial support group at the Women’s Health Centre where she met other women with different intellectual disabilities, exchanged ideas and was able to express herself comfortably, in a safe space, without being shy or scared. The more sessions Lama went to, the more confident she became. She soon began to have a smile on her face whenever she joined the group.   

When it was time for Lama’s occupational therapy, the focus was on strengthening her hand muscles so she can be less dependent on her family. With physiotherapy sessions and training, Lama learnt how to brush her teeth, comb her hair and shower by herself. She also learnt how to cut vegetables and can now help her mother in the kitchen.  

An educational specialist at the Women’s Health Centre explained that Lama was unable to differentiate between letters and numbers. Now, she can count and even read simple words. Today, Lama is less aggressive and can express herself with words. She can get dressed on her own, is not scared to leave the house and can now live much more independently. Lama also learnt embroidery and spends a lot of time embroidering small fabrics. 

“Lama is now aware that she can do things independently if she wants to,” her mother told MAP’s team in Gaza. “Her confidence has truly increased.” Lama’s journey towards independence has just begun and the Women’s Health Centre will continue to play an important role in helping her enjoy life more.  

To continue supporting the vital work of MAP and our partners in upholding the rights and dignity of people with disabilities in Palestine and Lebanon, please make a donation today. 

*Name changed to protect the identity of those involved. 

Stay updated – join our mailing list

* indicates required
Your Interests