“Life-changing” - 20 years of supporting parents of children with disabilities

In Lebanon, Palestinian refugees with disabilities face considerable challenges to their day-to-day life, including a lack of adequate services, ill-adapted public spaces, and exclusion from education and social activities.

Supporting people with disabilities is one of MAP’s main priorities. We partner with four multidisciplinary health and rehabilitation centres in Tyre, Saida and Beirut run by the Palestinian Women Humanitarian Organization, the Ghassan Kanafani Cultural Foundation and the General Union of Palestinian Women. These centres ensure early detection of learning difficulties, developmental delays and other disorders in children, and provide regular physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, special needs education, and psychosocial support services.

Last month was the 20th anniversary of a support group for parents of children with disabilities enrolled in the Ghassan Kanafani Cultural Foundation’s Habilitation preschool, in Mar Elias camp, Beirut. Supported by MAP, the preschool provides educational and rehabilitation services to more than one hundred children with disabilities each year.

For the occasion, the Habilitation team invited the mothers of people with disabilities who were previously enrolled in the preschool to talk about the progress their children have made and how they overcame any difficulties raising a child with a disability.

Amneh and Ahmad’s story

The group shared tears and smiles while listening to Amneh, the mother of Ahmad - a child with autism and hyperactivity who completed the preschool programme nine years ago. Amneh spoke about her experience raising a child with special needs and how she and her son succeeded in overcoming the challenges they faced.

Amneh started her talk by saying that “today I am very strong and sharing a success story, but my journey was anything but easy”. On many occasions she felt sad, concerned and angry, sometimes for long periods. She cried many times but always knew that she had to be strong for Ahmad and his siblings. “You go through multiple stages, this is normal. Things get easier and better with time,” she added.

Ahmad did not talk or communicate when he first joined the Habilitation preschool. During his time at the preschool, he made incredible progress. Ahmad was loved by his classmates and the preschool’s team. The educational psychologist, who attended the meeting, said that Ahmad is very talented and smart and always brought positive energy to group activities.

Amenh believes that the Habilitation preschool played a life-changing role for her and Ahmad. The team helped her understand her son’s condition and taught her how to best communicate with her son. They helped her overcome her feelings of guilt and anger and equipped her with the skills to address challenges.

Unfortunately, Ahmad was not able to enroll at a specialised or mainstream school after completing his preschool program due to the high cost of specialised education in Lebanon and the complexity of his condition. He has been out of school since he was eight years old. Amneh got very emotional when she spoke about this issue. “The tuition fees for one year at a specialised school are between $8,000 and $13,000. My husband is a casual laborer and on many days he doesn’t work. We cannot come up with such amounts of money,” she explained.

Having continued access to education and rehabilitation services after their children finish the preschool was a concern shared among the parents. Amneh is determined not to allow the lack of adequate services cause Ahmad’s condition and skills to deteriorate. They work hard every day to ensure he continues to develop. Amneh always remembers the advice and tips of the preschool specialists and seeks their help when needed.

The support group members spoke at length about the negative attitudes and stigma related to people with disability in the community. Amneh advised the group members not to let the frustrating comments they hear prevent them from taking their children out. “Our children’s wellbeing and happiness should be the priority. Hiding your children and keeping them at home will have a negative effect on both you and them. Our children need to feel that we love them and we are proud of them,” she said.

Wafa Dakwar, MAP’s Senior Programme Officer in Lebanon, described the meeting as “inspirational”. She reflected that “parents were very interactive and supportive of one another. Mothers of children who joined the preschool recently felt encouraged and empowered. For instance, a mother of a three-year-old child with autism who joined the Habilitation preschool this year asked Amneh many questions. She did not know anything about autism until her son was diagnosed. She was very pleased and encouraged when she heard about the milestones Ahmad has achieved.”

The group members thanked the Habilitation preschool for organising the meeting and MAP for supporting projects working with children with disabilities and their families.

To support MAP's disability programme in Lebanon, please consider making a donation today.

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