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.

Lebanon cuts back on Iran flights amid coronavirus cases

Updated 22 February 2020

Lebanon cuts back on Iran flights amid coronavirus cases

  • Exports of medical equipment halted as supplies run low

BEIRUT: Lebanon is reducing flights to countries, including Iran, with confirmed cases of coronavirus.

The decision to include Iran was taken after a Lebanese national, who was traveling from the city of Qom to Beirut, was diagnosed with the virus. Lebanese authorities asked the flight’s 150 passengers to self-quarantine for 14 days from the date they left Iran. 

Iran’s Health Ministry on Friday reported two more deaths among 13 new diagnosed cases of the COVID-19 virus, doubling the total number of deaths in the country. The virus has also spread to the UAE, Egypt and Israel. 

Thousands of Lebanese people travel to Iran every year to visit Shiite holy sites in Qom and other cities.

Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Bizri, an infectious diseases specialist and a member of an emergency unit formed to counter the spread of the virus in Lebanon, said that while it was better to freeze some flights to Iran’s religious sites there remained challenges.

“It is easy to track down people who have returned from Iran through tour operators who have names and addresses, but our problem is with those who go to Iran for business (purposes), especially since the Lebanese do not need a visa to enter Iran, and these people cannot be reached to find out if they carried the virus to Lebanon or not,” he told Arab News. “The second problem that we face is at land-border crossings. There is a transport line between Lebanon and Iran through Syria and Iraq, and this matter needs urgent follow-up to monitor any cases that may enter Lebanon by land through legitimate or illegal crossings."

Two Iranian airlines, Iran Air and Mahan Air, have two daily flights between Iran and Lebanon. Their passengers normally travel for religious purposes. 

The detection of coronavirus has overshadowed other events in Lebanon, such as the arrival of locust swarms and the new coalition government’s ongoing struggle to resolve the country’s social and political crises.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab chaired a meeting about the spread of the coronavirus. The meeting called for strict measures at Beirut airport and all border crossing stations, with those attending urging people not to panic. 

Face masks became scarce at pharmacies once the confirmed coronavirus case was reported. 

Dealers of medical equipment who had large quantities of the masks and other protective clothing had re-exported them in recent weeks, especially to countries battling the virus. The dealers were paid in US dollars - a boon as Lebanese banks are currently restricting dollar transactions - and they were able to buy medical equipment. 

Lebanon’s Economy Minister Raoul Neama issued a decision preventing the export of devices, equipment, or medical personal protective equipment against infectious diseases until further notice.

“The Consumer Protection Directorate will monitor the prices of this equipment in pharmacies and will be strict with violators in order to prevent any exploitation that aims to make unjustified profits at the expense of the Lebanese,” he said.

The price of one face mask in some pharmacies reached around $5, compared to its pre-crisis price of $0.25 or less.

Lebanese Health Minister Hamad Al-Hassan visited government hospitals to see how ready they were to deal with coronavirus cases. 

“Fear is legitimate, so is caution, but excessive panic is unnecessary,” he said, emphasizing the need to strictly abide by procedures at the country’s entry points and border crossings. 

But fear of infection has not deterred people from demonstrating against corruption and institutions.

Mask-wearing protesters demonstrated in Beirut against banking policies under the slogan: “You will pay the price.”