Disability projects in Lebanon: Giving hope to Palestinian children

With their uneven streets and tight, twisting alleyways, Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps can be tricky enough for anyone to traverse. But for Palestinian refugees with disabilities, these walkways present one of an array of barriers to their inclusion in the day-to-day life of the communities of the camps.

With scant resources available to adapt the camp environment to make it more accessible to people with disabilities, public and private spaces are all but closed to them.

In 2013, UNRWA estimated that only 8% of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon with disabilities are receiving adequate treatment, and that 88% of those requiring assistive devices do not have them. 

Many struggle to access education, employment, or social opportunities. Getting adequate healthcare or social services is also a challenge, as Palestinians are excluded from Lebanese governmental services, and must instead rely on what UNRWA and a few local and international NGOs can provide.

Children with disabilities often lack an equal chance to learn and play with their peers. In the area around Lebanon’s southern city of Sour alone, there are an estimated 1,200 Palestinian children living with disabilities, half of whom are under 15 years old.

MAP has been helping children with disabilities in south Lebanon claim their rights for a number of years.

At the Early Intervention Centre in El Bass camp, MAP supports specialised staff to provide rehabilitation services, occupational therapy and special education. The young children who come to the centre are coping with a range of disabilities and developmental disorders. Receiving care like this in their early years is essential to ensuring better inclusion in education and social activities as they grow.

The centre also extends a helping hand to families and caregivers, who can access guidance, counselling, and peer-to-peer support group sessions. The impact of this work on children and families is clear. Amal, seven, suffered a stroke soon after her family arrived in Lebanon after fleeing the war in Syrian three years ago. This affected her mobility and delayed her development, causing her to become shy and withdrawn.

Her mother blamed herself for her daughter’s stroke, believing her depression had caused it. “I think Amal was very affected by the war in Syria,” her mother recently told MAP. “She is still scared of loud noises and I feel this might be affecting her condition.”

The staff also reassured Amal’s mother that she wasn’t responsible for the condition. “We love coming here,” says Amal’s mother. “The staff don’t only care for the child but also for the parents too. We get psychological support. Whenever I feel sad, I come to the centre.”Through the occupational therapy and physiotherapy care provided at the centre and at home, Amal’s condition has improved considerably. She has now joined a kindergarten, something her mother feels would have been impossible without this support.

Close by the Early Intervention Unit, MAP also supports the Sour Community Disability Project rehabilitation centre. Here, persons with disabilities can access centre- and home-based rehabilitation services.

In recent months the centre has provided 102 persons with assistive devices to help their day-to-day life, and conducted home adaptations for eight families. The centre also works in the community to ensure that children with disabilities are included in educational and social activities, breaking down barriers of stigma and marginalisation.

“The staff don’t only care for the child but also for the parents too. We get psychological support. Whenever I feel sad, I come to the centre.”

Here another Palestinian refugee who fled the war in Syria, Zuleikha, has brought her two sons, Aayan (2) and Hamad (4). Both boys have cerebral palsy, a disorder that causes their muscles to weaken. Both were born in Lebanon, and had to stay in the hospital’s intensive care unit after birth, though when the family’s money ran out, the elder boy had to return home, so his condition is worse.

Something as simple as sitting up unassisted is a struggle for Aayan and Hamad, though with the help of the centre, the younger boy is now able to do so. The physiotherapists say that if they continue their course of physiotherapy both boys will eventually be able to work.

Zuleikha told MAP how pleased she is with the support they have received: “Without the centre here, we wouldn’t know what to do,” she says. “The staff always explain what they are doing, and why they are doing it.” For the children at these centres, the impact of the care they receive goes beyond healthcare; it also provides hope for the future. Amal, the girl at the Early Intervention Unit, wants to be a teacher when she grows up. Now she is able to go to kindergarten, she is a step closer to that dream.

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