Preschool helps to unleash potential of Palestinian children with disabilities in Lebanon

The Ghassan Kanafani Cultural Foundation’s (GKCF) habilitation preschool, one of Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)’s partners in Lebanon, provides early childhood education, and physical, occupational and speech therapy to Palestinian children with complex disabilities. In this interview, we hear from Nadine*, a mother of three children, about the support the preschool has provided to her six-year-old daughter Faten*.

Can you tell us about your daughter Faten?

“When Faten was born everything seemed normal, but a mother can always feel if something is not right. She could open her eyes but didn’t show expressions or reactions when she was hungry or when I was changing her nappy; no shouting or crying at all.

I took her to the hospital and the medical staff ran many tests for her. A few days after she was discharged from hospital, she started to vomit and lose consciousness, and she was diagnosed with epilepsy. Unfortunately, further tests showed that the initial diagnosis was wrong, and the medication that she was prescribed prevented her growth and caused additional negative side effects. 

Since then, we went to all types of doctors and neurologists to get a diagnosis, and spent a huge amount of money. We sold our car and I took a loan from my work. We were no longer able to pay our rent. My husband and I always considered Faten a blessing and asked God to help us provide the best care for her.

After two years of seeking a diagnosis for my daughter’s condition, we were told that Faten has Down’s syndrome. Doctors told me that although many people with Down’s syndrome can be independent, this will not be the case for my daughter – she will always need someone with her to help her.”

How did you hear about the GKCF? Why did you decide to seek their support?

“After reaching a diagnosis, we started taking Faten to different centres for support. My experience was very bad with two associations and Faten didn’t see any positive outcomes. Then, Faten’s physician at the medical centre where she was diagnosed told me about GKCF.

When I visited them, the team was very kind and collaborative. The feedback that I heard from other parents about their children’s improvements while I was waiting for Faten’s rehabilitation to start made me hopeful.”

How has your experience with GKCF been? What impact has their work had on your daughter?

“Faten is improving ever since her journey started with the GKCF’s habilitation preschool. When she first enrolled in the preschool, she did not respond or interact with us. Now she understands almost everything we say and responds immediately to us. She has started to walk using a walker and with our help, and she can sit down now too.

She is motivated because she is comfortable with the preschool’s specialists and they encourage her a lot. We started seeing good results very quickly. Even during the summer holidays and when Faten is sick, GKCF’s team always call and follow up with us. This helps us a lot as parents and keeps us feeling empowered and supported.

This is the first year that Faten is attending the preschool as a full-time student and I can see a significant improvement in her behaviour. Now, when we go to the preschool, she knows where her classroom is and rushes to reach it. When we are on the way to the preschool in the car, she sings and claps: “We are going to the preschool to see miss Iman [the specialist]”. I never imagined that we could reach this stage of improvement.

The orthopaedic doctor at GKCF was very impressed by her improved grip, muscle strength and understanding of our speech. Before coming to the preschool her movement was involuntary and not controlled, and she was not able to concentrate. Now, even when she is sitting at home and there are people around her, she sits, puts her hands together and listens.

The love and care that the GKCF team give to children, the way they treat them as if they are their own children is amazing and positively influences the wellbeing of children and parents.”

What has been the most useful aspect provided by the preschool?

“The most important thing here which is not found in other places is the proper coordination between therapists and the follow up with the children. Faten is receiving all the support available here, and all of the therapists follow one goal which is to improve children’s skills at all levels, at the same time.

My daughter is improving here on a weekly basis. She always surprises me and her father with new movements and skills that she has learnt.”

How could the work of the preschool be improved?

“The therapists make a great effort, which every parent really appreciates. I have attended several sessions and saw that therapists are using mostly basic equipment to put joy in the children’s hearts. I hope that more advanced equipment might be available in the future, but of course this is not essential.

I also suggest renovating the classrooms so that they are more colourful and appealing to children, and they include more toys. These are simple things, but they can have an impact on a child’s development.”

What are your hopes for the future of Palestinian children in Lebanon?

“I hope that every child can find someone who supports them and stands by their side. Every Palestinian refugee in Lebanon is suffering, but people with disabilities are suffering much more. Their chances are limited, they do not have rights as Palestinian refugees and they do not benefit from the Lebanese government’s facilities for people with disabilities.”

Do you have any last words for MAP and their supporters?

“Thank you MAP for standing by our side and supporting our children. I hope you can continue to help others especially during these difficult times and crises.”

Thank you for supporting the health and dignity of Palestinian children in Lebanon. Please consider making a donation today to help us continue our essential work.


*Names have been changed to protect the identity of people involved.

Photo: GKCF specialists provide a training to parents of children with disabilities.

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