Build up the body of Christ. Support the Pentecost Offering.

School for students with disabilities challenges social stigma in Beirut

‘The least of these’ lead the way at Blessed School

by Scott Parker | for Mission Crossroads

Each week, Blessed students prepare hundreds of meals to distribute to impoverished people. (Photo by Scott Parker)

Each week, Blessed students prepare hundreds of meals to distribute to impoverished people. (Photo by Scott Parker)

BEIRUT – Despite its history of civil war and its current challenges with poverty and the refugee crisis, the city of Beirut remains fertile ground for those seeking wealth, status and power. For Muslims and Christians, the cultural ethos of pride/shame places a high value on education, success and providing for one’s family.

In such an achievement-based culture, those with disabilities are often considered “invisible.” In addition to the social stigma, those who are blind, physically disabled or developmentally challenged are not given the same access to jobs, education and funding as the rest of society.

Blessed, established in 1868 as a school for the blind, challenges this cultural reality head-on. Its approximately 60 students reflect a spectrum of disabilities: blindness, Down syndrome, autism and other developmental challenges. Students are taught to read, manage life tasks, and earn an income through skills such as baking and basket making.

Director Linda Macktaby’s efforts to empower students with disabilities reach far beyond teaching them skills to function in society. Blessed has become a community in which the “least of these” lead the way in ministering to the needs of the greater community.

Even though many of the students are from impoverished families, Blessed has recently taken steps to address poverty related to rising unemployment and the influx of Syrian refugees. Each week, Blessed students cook and box hundreds of take-away meals that they distribute to those lacking proper nutrition.

In Lebanon, Syrian refugees are restricted from employment in most professions because they would take jobs away from citizens. Although Blessed has two Syrian teachers, they work as volunteers as it is illegal to give them a salary.

While the school itself operates on a shoestring, Blessed enrolls Syrian students with special needs despite their inability to pay. One Syrian family has been given a scholarship amounting to 90 percent of the annual tuition. Another family cannot pay at all, so the father performs odd jobs at the school on weekends.

It is in Blessed’s use of music and daily worship that perhaps its most profound societal impact can be seen. Music and dance are a treasured part of Lebanese culture, and the children are taught traditional songs, instruments and dances that are presented at public concerts. Being a church-based school, songs and stories about Jesus and God’s unconditional love are incorporated in daily worship. These gatherings, which include Christian and Muslim students, are surprisingly encouraged by families of both faiths. Through the experience of having a child with special needs, these families find a common bond of acceptance in which the dividing walls are torn down.

Subscribe to a free World Mission magazine
This article is from the spring 2016 issue of Mission Crossroads magazine, a publication of Presbyterian World Mission. To subscribe or read archived issues, visit  

Make a difference
Support Scott and Elmarie’s work in the Middle East at

Support refugee children at

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.