New perspectives on education: Palestinian children living with disabilities in refugee camps

On Wednesday, June 10, a discussion was hosted by a member of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and a member of World Vision on new education perspectives for Palestine refugee children with disabilities living in refugee camps in Lebanon. The setting of the camps is already dangerous for those who are able-bodied, with narrow streets, exposed electric wires running alongside water and limited natural sunlight.  The added on limited number of schools and health facilities makes life extremely difficult for those living with a disability.  Access to education specifically is limited, if not impossible, due to not only environmental factors, but to a failure on part of the teachers to be able to assist children with disabilities and a reluctance of other parents in the community to allow children with disabilities into the schools.

World Vision has been working closely with UNRWA to address these issues and create a more accessible and inclusive environment for children with disabilities.  First, they went into the communities themselves to teach them on the importance of inclusion. Many parents did not see the point of having their children with disabilities educated in an already abysmal job market that employs only 45% of refugees. World Vision held community consultations to convince parents to include children with disabilities in the schools, during which they brought in a number of young people to talk about their experiences in an inclusive learning environment.

Going beyond that, the intervention World Vision takes what they call a holistic approach.  They provide strong support for parents in understanding their children’s disabilities and how to manage them.  In the classroom, teachers receiving training in basic rehabilitation and are provided with material on how to create an inclusive environment and to effectively teach a student with a disability including how to teach them life skills and communication skills.   Therapy sessions in occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech therapy and psychology are also provided for the children.  All these programs are supported heavily by UNRWA.

A suggestion made in the feedback from the presentation was to include the disability rights movement in regular youth education to prevent prejudices from continuing in the younger generation. Currently it is often the parents more than the children who fight against inclusion in education. However, educational practices in the camps are already straining enough with the basic skills and subjects taught due to a lack of resources and staff.  While both speakers highlighted the achievements of the programs being run, they concluded with reminding everyone present that these examples are few in comparison to the larger situation at hand. However, it does provide a working model for viable inclusion policies in education in the area.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has designated June 14, 2015 as Disability Inclusion Sunday. Presbyterians for Disability Concerns (PDC), one of the ten networks of the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA) provides resources for congregations and worshipping communities to use on this and other Sundays.

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