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.


Palestinians, Arabs ‘must learn lessons of Naksa’

A Palestinian man facing Israeli soldiers waves a national flag during a protest against Israel's plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, near the town of Tulkarm on June 5, 2020. (AFP)
Updated 06 June 2020

Palestinians, Arabs ‘must learn lessons of Naksa’

  • Jordanian MP Kais Zayadin said that the biggest mistake Arab countries made was to trust that the occupying state would make peace and reach a lasting solution to the Palestinian cause

AMMAN: Leading Palestinian and Arab figures have used the 53rd anniversary of Naksa — the displacement and occupation of Arab territories that followed Israel’s victory in the 1967 war against Egypt, Syria, and Jordan — to highlight political mistakes made during and after the conflict.

Adnan Abu-Odeh, political adviser to Jordan's King Hussein and King Abdullah II, told Arab News that Arab countries and the Palestinian leadership had failed to understand the goals of Zionism.

“Governments that participated in the war were naive, expecting a repeat of the 1956 Sinai invasion when the US ordered an Israeli withdrawal. This was followed by the mistaken belief that we could liberate the land using guerrilla warfare," he said.

Anees Sweidan, director-general of foreign relations in the PLO, told Arab News that the Palestinian cause is undergoing a complicated phase where political opportunities are limited.

“The US bias towards Israel and absence of unity has put the Palestinian movement in a difficult situation. It is harder to generate external support and the financial crunch is causing much suffering despite the fact that we have made important accomplishments in the UN and Europe.”

Abdalqader Husseini, chairperson of the Faisal Husseini Foundation, said that the opportunities the anniversary offers should not be ignored.

“We need to realize that this is an illegal occupation that continues to dig deeper and escalate every day to the degree that the international community has lost interest and world conscience has become numb to Israeli practices. We in Jerusalem have not normalized with the occupiers and we have not accepted the new situation as an inescapable reality that we must accept.”

Jordanian MP Kais Zayadin said that the biggest mistake Arab countries made was to trust that the occupying state would make peace and reach a lasting solution to the Palestinian cause.

“We went to Madrid with hope, the Palestinian leadership went to Oslo with optimism that they could reach a phased solution that would lead to statehood. As we remember this Naksa, we must revisit the path that has allowed the occupying entity to steal our land and cause havoc to our people without any deterrence from the international community," he said.

They (Palestinian youth) personify the meaning of steadfastness for dignity, and they have the will to protect our heritage, our identity, and our holy places.”

Mahdi Abdulhadi, head of PASSIA thinktank

Nibal Thawabteh, director of the Bir Zeit University’s Media Development Center, said the biggest mistake since 1967 was focusing on politics and avoiding community development.

"We don’t have a strong sense of citizenship, some have become accustomed to religious Islam. We need to work more on the citizenship.”

Ahmad Awad, director of the Amman-based Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies, said there is a lack of acknowledgment of the reasons behind the Arab loss.

“Political, economic and cultural factors caused our loss, and we feel that most Arab countries have not learned this lesson. Instead of learning, we are going backwards, failing to defend their existential rights, shifting to isolationism as well as cultural and economic regression in our region."

Instead of looking backward, some Palestinians wanted to look forward.

Mahdi Abdulhadi, head of the PASSIA thinktank in Jerusalem, said that Palestinian youth who never felt the shock of the 1967 defeat but have seen the exposure of Arab regimes in the face of the "deal of the century" will prevail.

“They personify the meaning of steadfastness for dignity, and they have the will to protect our heritage, our identity, and our holy places.”

Lily Habash, a Exeter University political science graduate, told Arab News that things look different on the ground.

“The world is changing and Israel uses geopolitical and regional changes to its advantage,” she said.

Dangers today encourage despair but Palestinians will be steadfast in the long term, she added.

“Some say we need a savior to get us out of this dilemma but I believe we need to trust in ourselves and work on all fronts.”