Adnan’s Story – UNICEF Lebanon programme asserts inclusivity as a key to children’s future

A targeted intervention aimed at improving the lives of children and youth with disabilities, this UNICEF programme plays a valuable role in ensuring that all children realise their right to education

Simon Balsom
Adnan El Hallak a 4 years old boy with behavioral disorders.
02 December 2020

Children with disabilities are one of the most marginalised and excluded groups in society. Facing daily discrimination and exclusion in the form of negative attitudes, lack of adequate protection and legislation, they are effectively prevented from accessing their rights to healthcare, education, and even survival.

Through a UNICEF-supported programme, funded jointly by the Governments of Australia and Canada, plus the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), the United States’ Bureau of Population, Refugee and Migration (BPRM), and the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KS Relief), children with disabilities in Lebanon are being fully assisted from an early age.

Thanks to the implementation of a raft of measures, they are today receiving professional support to cover their unique needs. The programme has brought specialised education and rehabilitation services to vulnerable children with disabilities and, through engagement within their community, is succeeding in empowering them through raising awareness on disability and ensuring their right to access life-long learning opportunities.

Stories such as this typically begin with a statistic designed to highlight a problem. The girls and boys benefitting from this UNICEF Lebanon current programme are not statistics. Each is an individual, with a name.

Let us meet Adnan.

Adnan is five-years-old, and lives with his parents on the outskirts of Saida in southern Lebanon. Born in Lebanon to a Syrian mother shortly after she managed to flee her home-country’s turmoil, Adnan has been faced with behavioural and learning difficulties throughout his young life. His mother puts this down to the stress she endured during her pregnancy.

At three and identified as part of UNICEF Lebanon’s social outreach programme in his city, Adnan was offered a place and classes at Saida’s Social Welfare Center.

Adnan’s teacher, Nour Hamdan, recalls how challenging he found his first day in class. “There was no communication between him and his teachers,” she notes, adding, “and less still with his classmates. His speech ability was quite limited, and his behaviour was unacceptable – through no fault of his own, he hadn’t yet learned to respect the basic rules of society. Unable to understand the world around him, he became frustrated and openly aggressive”.

With the dedicated support of his special education teachers – who worked closely with his parents - and following a course of physician prescribed medication paid for by his parents from the father’s meagre salary, Adnan is now a fully engaged and highly popular member of his class.

Adnan El Hallak, a 4 years old boy with behavioral disorders, playing in class with his teacher supervision

He remains high-spirited, and his behavioural progress is marked. Nour comments on the improvement in his language skills, and also on his patience in learning. “His parents are loving and caring, but are unable to support their son’s learning. Were it not for Adnan being offered a place in this UNICEF-supported programme, their son would most likely have grown with little or no formal education.

“The chances of finding a public school willing to have taken Adnan two years ago were limited. Without the focus we’ve been able to give to him over the past twenty-four months, he would still be in the same position. Now though, we hope within a year or two that Adnan will be well-equipped and ready to move to a public school to continue his education”.

The programme places a high level of importance in the value of supporting the parents of children with disabilities. It facilitates and empowers parents in the needs of their child – building their resilience for the road that lays ahead. 

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic precipitating a series of lockdowns and the closure of educational establishments, Adnan was receiving one psychotherapy session every month, along with monthly psychomotor and psychosocial support therapy.

Highlighting UNICEF’s commitment to Lebanon’s most vulnerable children, support has been maintained for Adnan and others despite social and movement restrictions imposed by the government.

Today, Adnan continues to receive a group session every week as well as three specially-created lessons shared by video, speech therapy activities conducted via WhatsApp, and psychomotor activities delivered using the same application. Coordination with his teacher is maintained as part of the newly shaped distance learning programme.

The teachers have established their own psychological support group aimed at forming increasingly improving ways of communicating with their children.

Wherever they live, children with disabilities are at high risk of violence, discrimination and exclusion. These risks are exacerbated in protracted emergency settings – such as those which currently exist in Lebanon due to the ongoing multiple crises – the Syrian crisis, collapsing economy, and the pandemic – which have combined to add to the isolation of children with disabilities.

In Lebanon, a series of targeted interventions are aimed at improving the situation for children and youth living with disabilities by ensuring their inclusion in society. UNICEF’s current programme - funded jointly by the Governments of Australia and Canada, plus DFID, BPRM and KS Relief - is playing an important role in ensuring that all children, just like Adnan, can realise their rights and access life-long education, rehabilitation and protection services.