September 3, 2016
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 have visual impairments, physical disabilities, or developmental challenges are not given the same access to jobs, education, and funding as the rest of society.
But a school named Blessed, established in 1868 for the blind, challenges this cultural reality head-on. Its approximately 60 students reflect a spectrum of disabilities: blindness, Down syndrome, autism, and other 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 the students skills to help them 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 because giving them a salary would be illegal.
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 and dances that are presented at public concerts. With Blessed 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 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.
Scott Parker, Associate for Ecumenical Partnerships, Serving in Lebanon
Today’s Focus: Beirut
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray
Gracious God, we praise you. May your peace prevail in the Middle East. Show your compassion anew, and bring tragedy there to an end. Make your church a sign of your compassion in a hurting world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.