Conquering DisabilityBy George Mghames
Escaping the crisis in their homeland, thousands of Syrian refugees have taken refuge in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. Most of them live in poor conditions and rely mainly on humanitarian assistance, and Jawhara is one of them. Unlike other refugees, she faces additional challenges. One of her six children, Fatima, has Down syndrome.
When they first arrived, Jawhara and her family settled with a person they knew, before renting a substandard house located near an informal tent settlement. “The conditions are terrible where we live. When it rains, some water drops fall from the ceiling,” says Jawhara. Her husband, a construction worker, can barely find work due to the decreasing opportunities in this field. Many Syrian refugees resort to work in construction. Therefore, the family mainly relies on the help of humanitarian organisations.
Four of Jawhara's six children were born in Lebanon, including four-year-old Fatima. “When I was pregnant with Fatima, I had a feeling that something was wrong, but I wasn't sure,” recalls Jawhara. At that time, she did not have enough money to have the required blood tests, so she waited until Fatima’s birth.
“I knew from that moment that my daughter would have a difficult life,” admits Jawhara. Fatima does not know how to talk, barely eats and drinks. Occasionally, she even hits her sisters. “Fatima is only able to articulate three words: my name, her father’s and ‘Esss’,” says Jawhara. “Ess” is not a word in Arabic, but the only a sound she makes to express herself. Kids in their settlement picked up on Fatima’s condition. They made fun of her and called her “Esss", until her mom decided to keep her away from them by not allowing her to play with them. “I know she will never be like her sisters, even the younger ones understand more than she does," adds Jawhara.
Jawhara heard about World Vision's early childhood education (ECE) programme during an outreach session in her informal settlement, and did not hesitate to enrol Fatima in the following cycle. The programme provides Syrian refugee children in Bekaa Valley and Akkar (northern Lebanon) with early education and their parents with ‘caregiver training’ on how to promote learning at home.
“At first, I had doubts that she would be accepted but she was, and I thought it was best to have her sister Mariam sign up with her,” says Jawhara. Even though Mariam is a year older, she share the same class with Fatima to help her adapt and eat her food. A few weeks later, Fatima started to participate more in the activities. She even accepted help from her teachers who offered to feed her and, most importantly, came home happy. “I wish one day Fatima will be able to talk and become more independent,” admits Jawhara.
Since June 2018, World Vision Lebanon’s ECE programme has provided education to 1,100 children and caregiver trainings for 1,000 parents. The ECE centres have been a home for refugee children who suffer from difficulties and a source of hope to hundreds of parents.