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.