6 April, 2020

It is lonely on the rooftop. Four flights down, the street in downtown Beirut is alive with men, women, and children. Cars honk at distracted pedestrians, shop owners shout at one another, and kids run home from school. But for ten-year-old Rafeef, the activity four flights down might as well be across the ocean.

Alone with her walker, the girl just listens and looks. Rafeef has a genetic disorder in her spinal cord. It affects her mobility, her vision, and her ability to learn. She can shuffle with the aid of her walker, but she is otherwise immobile and dependent on caregivers.

One of those caregivers is Ahlam. She is a tutor with ADRA ABILITY, a project tailored to the needs of children with physical and mental handicaps. Ahlam knows that life in Lebanon is hard for someone like Rafeef. “If you don’t help girls with special needs in Lebanon, they have no future or hope. A girl with disability is thought to be incapable of anything,” she says. “The parents will just try to marry her off to a much older man.” Because parents do not believe there is value in educating a child with disability, they rarely seek out special care. Even if they do, such care is costly, and considered a waste of money. “Parents are very surprised by the high cost of disability learning,” Ahlam says. “The parents feel there is no hope.”

ADRA ABILITY is a program that counters that belief and offers hope. Through one-on-one education, tutors like Ahlam can visit children in their home and provide a personalized education. Equipped with iPads and additional educational resources, these tutors provide children with access to a world beyond their lonely rooms. More than just education, these tutors bring companionship. Rafeef was abandoned by her mother, and has never heard from her since. Her father works often, and her stepmother, though a loving caregiver, is also busy working at the nearby hospital. It is not uncommon for Rafeef to pass many hours in isolation. “She is always alone and she needs somebody to care for her,” Ahlam says. “I love Rafeef, and she is so happy that I am there to care for her.”

In addition to providing social and educational support, ADRA ABILITY also provides walkers, physical therapy, and specialists. “Children with special needs require special care,” says ADRA Project Manager Rita Haddad. “Even girls without special needs are undervalued here in Lebanon. A girl with special needs is given no priority.” “We need to double our efforts to help girls with disability,” she adds. Since working with ADRA, Rafeef has built up her strength and mobility. Last year, she could move only by crawling. Now, with the aid of her ADRA walker and her sessions with a physiotherapist, she no longer needs to drag herself across the floor.

“Our program gives them education,” Rita says. “It also gives them hope and power.” Together we can give children like Rafeef education, hope, and power.

– Story supplied by ADRA International

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