Displacement and disability

Seventy years have now passed since the Nakba, or ‘Catastrophe’, when over 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from or fled their homes due to the actions of armed groups during the creation of the State of Israel. Around 100,000 of them found shelter in Lebanon.

Despite living in Lebanon for seven decades, Palestinian refugees continue to suffer from social and economic exclusion, discrimination, and extreme poverty.

In Lebanon, the civil, political and economic human rights of Palestinian refugees are severely restricted. They are prohibited from owning property and working in 39 professions, including most medical jobs. Restrictions on employment and access to Lebanese public services, such as education and healthcare, leave many Palestinian refugees dependent on aid and services provided by the chronically-underfunded UNRWA.

In Lebanon, there are 12 official refugee camps where 53% of Palestinians refugees live. These camps suffer from abject poverty, overcrowding, unemployment, poor housing and lack of infrastructure.

Supporting disability rights in Lebanon

Palestinian refugees with disabilities face considerable challenges in day-today life in Lebanon. This includes a lack of adequate services, ill-adapted public spaces, and exclusion from education and social activities.

Supporting people with disabilities is a priority for MAP. We partner with four multidisciplinary health and rehabilitation centres in Tyre, Saida, and Beirut run by the Palestinian Women Humanitarian Organization, 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.

Our partners work to empower people to challenge public perceptions. We recently discussed this with the coordinator of the disability project in Tyre who reflected:

When we first opened, families used to deny that they had a child with a disability. They used to keep them at home. We faced many challenges convincing parents to bring their children to our centre and benefitting from our services. Today, I feel that families are aware of the importance of early intervention and are eager to bring their children to the community centre and involve them in rehabilitation, educational and recreational activities. Our team is proud to have contributed to making our community more inclusive and accessible for people with disabilities.”

Rola’s story

Rola is four years old. She lives in Beirut with her mother and two brothers.

Rola has cerebral palsy. Before she was born her mother, Mona, did not know about disability rights or how to raise a child with cerebral palsy. “When the doctors told me about my Rola’s condition I was in shock; I didn’t know what to expect or do.”

When Rola was a year old, Mona received a private donation allowing her to attend a well-known and expensive rehabilitation centre. Rola progressed well; however, a year later, Mona ran out of money and could no longer afford the fees. Mona took her daughter to private rehabilitation centres throughout Beirut. This took much of her time, energy, and financial resources and, as a result, she lost her job. “My daughter is the most important person to me and she is worth every sacrifice,” she explained. During this time, she also divorced from her husband.

Mona was losing hope when a doctor informed her about the MAP supported Habilitation Preschool in Beirut. Located in Mar Elias camp, Beirut, it provides educational and rehabilitation services for children with disabilities and their families.

At the preschool, Rola and Mona found a welcoming and kind team. They assessed Rola and, with Mona’s input, agreed on a care plan. This included physiotherapy, occupational and speech therapy and educational support. “The team did not just focus on Rola as in the other places, they provided care for the whole family. It was the first time I was asked about my feelings, thoughts and needs,” Mona said.

Mona learnt to communicate more effectively with her daughter by observing how the therapists interacted with Rola. “I didn’t know that she was capable of doing so many things until I saw how she responded to the centre’s staff,” she explained.

Mona reflected that Rola has made great progress and has become happier and more sociable since enrolling at the preschool. Mona is very pleased with the services provided and is thankful to the centre’s staff, describing them as “a team of angels, with exceptional kindness and patience.”

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2018 edition of our supporter magazine, Witness.