In many countries across the Middle East, access to disabled assistance, habilitation and integration is nigh on impossible. Now, with the influx of families from neighbouring countries fleeing wars and massacres, children with disabilities are finding it more difficult than ever to survive, let alone integrate into society.
One country that plays host to a huge number of refugee families is the tiny republic of Lebanon. With an estimated population of just 4 million, there are 450,000 Palestinian refugees currently registered in Lebanon, according to UNRWA, and over 1 million Syrian refugees according to UNHCR. Many of these refugees are children and, naturally, among them are disabled children.
Founded in 1986 initially as a pilot project, The Ghassan Kanafani Cultural Foundation now assists refugee children nation-wide in various refugee camps and gatherings. Pocket Robin interviewed Louloua Ghandour and Nahla Ghandour (daughter and mother) about the positive changes they are making in these children’s lives.
Louloua, known as “Lili”, is a Lebanese dancer and choreographer who has worked with the Foundation for the past two years on the Foundation’s Dance Therapy Movement Programme specifically designed for children with mental and physical disabilities. It mainly consists of building children’s self-awareness, sensory responses to music and sound and general self-confidence.
“We work on auditory attentiveness, and on synchronizing music and body movement, even with children who have great movement limitations,” says Louloua. “The presence of dance motivates them to try their best to enjoy the moment and go along with the overall positive ambiance of the session. It improves their sociability with others. Children get to learn just how much they are capable of in a very fun environment, which enhances their self-esteem.”
Louloua’s mother, Nahla Ghandour, is a pediatric occupational therapist and director of the Foundation’s rehabilitation preschool. The Foundation’s aim is to work with children with multiple disabilities in the early stages of their lives, providing various means of intervention to develop their skills in all aspects of their lives. Of her mother, Louloua says,
“It is because of her love and support and her hope in humanity that this is all possible. She is the driving force behind these positive changes, and she inspires me every day.”
It seems Nahla inspires more than just her own daughter: Five months ago, Sami*, a Syrian refugee child with autism, was brought to the Foundation by his mother, desperate to know how to deal with her child’s extreme behavioral problems. The intensive multi-disciplinary intervention programme saw Sami undergo such progress that he is now fully capable of enrolling in a mainstream school as of next year. After hiding him from his small local community in Syria for several years, the family is now making plans to return and has a concrete regimen for Sami’s daily routine involving what to teach him, how, and even plans of an apprenticeship with his father so that he may carry on in the family’s profession.
Women like Louloua and Nahla Ghandour have put smiles on children’s faces and tools in children’s hands – children who were previously desperate and often hopeless. The Ghassan Kanafani Cultural Foundation continues to reintegrate children into society, giving them laughter, love and a chance for a better future.
Visit The Ghassan Kanafani Cultural Foundation to find out more about their work.
*Name has been changed