A social entrepreneur seeks to reduce stigma of disabilities in Palestine

Amro’s inclusive educational system was adopted officially by the Palestinian Ministry of Education and has been gradually implemented in public schools. (Supplied)
Updated 08 November 2019

A social entrepreneur seeks to reduce stigma of disabilities in Palestine

  • Nurreddin Amro is improving the lot of the physically disadvantaged in Jerusalem and beyond
  • Since 2007 Siraj Al-Quds School and Society has helped thousands of children with special needs

CAIRO: The brutal challenges of living in occupied Palestine have been extensively documented, but lesser known is the plight of the country’s disabled population.

In Palestine, special needs children face daily difficulties within their communities and in schools due to the lack of appropriate social and educational support.

In 2007, local social entrepreneur Nurreddin Amro — who is afflicted with 98 percent blindness — launched the pioneering Siraj Al-Quds School and Society for the Blind and Special Needs.

The organization aims to promote and improve the educational, social and familial networks for visually impaired and marginalized children in Jerusalem and beyond.

Since opening its doors, the school has served thousands of children and has offered formal education to those aged 4 through to 13, accepting students demonstrating the most financial need.

Operated thanks to project funding, donations and minimal tuition fees, the organization is also helping to reduce the stigma surrounding blindness and disabilities in Palestine.

“Visually challenged and special needs people suffer from a variety of difficulties and challenges during their education and lifetime. These problems stem from the absence of appropriate educational environments, lack of assistive technology and scarcity of life opportunities,” Amro said.

Job opportunities remain scarce despite Palestine’s five percent employment quota for disabled people.

“One of the goals of the school is to foster the sense of equality and understanding among all categories of students.”

Amro hires both sighted and visually impaired teachers and trains them to use adaptive and inclusive educational techniques and innovative technology to assist in the learning process.

The school has implemented a wide range of creative and innovative activities to provide the visually impaired with the skills to integrate into their community.

“We use audio technology in the school to create adaptive educational environment, in addition to talking computers and an audio curriculum. Teachers also receive appropriate training in how to deal with pupils in diverse classroom environments,” Amro said.

“We teach our kids to love each other, play together and educate them on the sense the sense of equality to bridge the gap created by social stigma between different social categories.”

According to Amro, socioeconomically disadvantaged groups and disabled people are populations who suffer most from marginalisation in Palestine: “Disabled and marginalised people are often considered a burden.”

Through his work, Amro is using education as a platform to provide equal opportunity in schools and beyond.

Siraj Al-Quds has created affiliations with national and international organisations, Palestinian communities and local offices to serve the goal of equality and inclusion for the blind and disabled people.

Amro’s inclusive educational system was adopted officially by the Palestinian Ministry of Education and has been gradually implemented in public schools.

“Recently the Palestinian Authority passed laws to integrate visually impaired pupils in public schools, however, implementing those laws and preparing school environments to accommodate them will take a long time. Such initiatives will require a lot of spending and a dramatic change in the attitudes of teachers and community members.”

Once pupils have graduated from Siraj Al-Quds, the teenagers are referred to appropriate next-stage schools. However, Amro says there are plans to expand Siraj Al-Quds’ education range to high school to continue helping children beyond primary level.

Job opportunities for visually impaired students remain scarce in Palestine despite the country’s five percent employment quota for disabled people.

Amro’s ultimate vision is to help shape a pluralistic, diverse community where all members — including the visually challenged, special needs and marginalised people — enjoy equal opportunities and access to work.

“In an ideal world, everyone in Palestine will enjoy equal standing within an adaptive and inclusive environment that enables them to meet their needs, fulfill their ambitions and live peaceful lives.”

 

• This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.


Lebanese banks, schools shut as protesters push on

Updated 12 November 2019

Lebanese banks, schools shut as protesters push on

  • The union, which represents 11,000 staff, called for the strike over safety concerns
  • Banks in Lebanon have been imposing restrictions on dollar withdrawals and transfers abroad

BEIRUT: Banks and schools were closed in Lebanon on Tuesday as protesters tried to prevent employees from clocking in at state institutions nearly one month into an anti-graft street movement.

Unprecedented protests erupted across Lebanon on October 17, demanding the ouster of a generation of politicians seen by demonstrators as inefficient and corrupt.

The government stepped down on October 29 but it remains in a caretaker capacity as no overt efforts have been made to form a new one.

Dozens of protesters gathered near the Palace of Justice in central Beirut on Tuesday morning, demanding an independent judiciary as they tried to prevent judges and lawyers from going to work, an AFP correspondent said.

In the town of Aley east of Beirut, in the southern city of Tyre, and the eastern town of Baalbek, demonstrators held sit-ins outside or inside the offices of the state telecommunications provider, local media reported.

Many schools and universities were closed, as were banks after their employees called for a general strike over alleged mistreatment by customers last week.

Banks have restricted access to dollars since the start of the protests, sparking fears of the devaluation of the local currency and discontent among account holders.

The central bank on Monday however insisted the Lebanese pound would remain pegged to the dollar and said it had asked banks to lift restrictions on withdrawals.

Students, who have emerged as key players in the uprising, were expected to hold further demonstrations later in the day ahead of a presidential address in the evening.

The leaderless protest movement first erupted after a proposed tax on calls via free phone applications, but it has since morphed into an unprecedented cross-sectarian outcry against everything from perceived state corruption to rampant electricity cuts.

People in the street say they are fed up with the same political families dominating government institutions since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

Protesters are demanding a fresh cabinet include independent experts not affiliated to traditional political parties, but no date has yet been set for required parliamentary consultations.

Government formation typically takes months in Lebanon, with protracted debate on how to best maintain a fragile balance between religious communities.

The World Bank says around a third of Lebanese live in poverty, and has warned the country’s struggling economy could further deteriorate if a new cabinet is not formed rapidly.