BEIRUT: People with special needs have taken to the streets throughout Lebanon, carrying banners demanding their “right to education, rehabilitation, treatment, integration and interdependence.”
Waving Lebanese flags, they shouted “we don’t want to be at home, we want to learn,” “you and I are like each other,” and “no one is better than anyone.”
Some associations catering for Lebanese children with special needs have closed down due to lack of government funding.
People in wheelchairs, and some with canes, went to the headquarters of Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi.
“We’re not the weakest segment of society, as some people like to call us,” said protester Michela Gabriel. “We have the right to know why the state hasn’t yet provided the necessary support to the associations.”
In the town of Hermel, people with special needs gathered around the center that provides them with care. “We don’t accept being marginalized,” said one of them.
Students with special needs also protested in the city of Tripoli. “If the dues aren’t paid, our students will remain in their homes without educational attention, and we don’t accept that,” said social worker Anita Bator.
Norma Al-Zain, director of the El-Kharrub Complex for Welfare and Development, expressed concern that “social welfare institutions will have to make painful choices because their continuation depends on the donations of good people and the payment of dues by the state.”
Richard Kouyoumdjian, social affairs minister in the caretaker government, told protesters that he “won’t abandon these institutions, and won’t accept the threat of closure, nor touching a hair on the head of a child with special needs.”
He said the suffering of people with special needs and the associations that care for them “is part of what Lebanon is experiencing from an economic crisis that affects all institutions.” He promised to speed up aid disbursements.
Meanwhile, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri met on Monday with Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) leader Walid Jumblatt.
The latter also visited Saad Hariri, who resigned as prime minister on Oct. 29.
The meetings were part of efforts to overcome hurdles to the formation of a new government.
There were conflicting reports of a meeting on Monday between President Michel Aoun and Samir Khatib, who has emerged as the favorite candidate to form a government, and a meeting between Khatib and the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, Gebran Bassil.
Jumblatt said the PSP will not participate in the government, but will nominate competent Druze candidates as ministers.