Drawing smiles on children’s faces
UNICEF’s support to child rehabilitation centres in East Jerusalem is helping Palestinian children find their voice.
East Jerusalem, September 1, 5-year-old Farah was born like any other girl with the only exception that she had an extra chromosome. “When Farah was born, joy was evident on her face,” says her mother, Rawiya. She continues, “initially, we had planned to name her Layla, but upon learning about her Down Syndrome diagnosis, her father named her Farah, which means "joy" in Arabic.
Children with Down Syndrome need special care and attention, which is why Farah’s family took her to rehabilitation centre supported by UNICEF in East Jerusalem. This centre is supported by UNICEF as part of the “Strengthening health care services and clinical capacity of health care facilities in East Jerusalem to respond to COVID-19 outbreak and sustain early childhood health and development services for children with disabilities” project with the support of Norway. This project aims to improve healthcare facilities’ capacity in providing early childhood care, where UNICEF supplied them with rehabilitation equipment, tools, personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as three capacity building training courses for healthcare providers on how to use the hydrotherapy pool, performing audiometric tests, the sensory room and equipment in therapeutic sessions.
This greatly helped the rehabilitation centre that families, especially in East Jerusalem, have come to rely on. The centre did not have a hearing examination service, several of the therapists there stated that children were being referred to them without having undergone a hearing test. Lucy, the sessions coordinator who oversees Farah’s therapy to make sure there is progress said, “this lack of testing had a significant impact on the children’s treatment plans, as their specific needs could not be accurately identified.”
To parents who are struggling to help their children, this creates a logistical nightmare as they had to either take time off from work or bring their children in the week after. Palestinian children who are unable to speak a language other than Arabic face challenges due to the limited availability of audiology exams in their native tongue. “The language barrier poses a challenge as language variations affect the accuracy of the tests. Consequently, we cast doubts about the validity of those test results”, adds Lucy.
Farah needs audiology exams every few months to follow up on her treatment, Farah’s mother says that “individuals with Down Syndrome often face the potential for vision and hearing impairments.” Being from East Jerusalem the rehabilitation centre not only provides the necessary services Farah needs, but also a convenience for her family due to its proximity. The exam takes place in a sound-proofed room as her therapist tests her hearing.
Miral, who has been with Farah since the beginning of the treatment stresses the importance of these exams. “In order to establish speech goals, it is crucial to ensure that the child’s hearing is within the normal range.” UNICEF’s support in providing the Audiology unit has gone a long way in facilitating the centre’s work, Miral goes on to say that “if I suspect that a hearing test is necessary, I can quickly refer them to the unit without delay.” She adds that, “When the same staff members who work closely with the child also conduct the tests, the process becomes much smoother.” This saves the child, and the child’s family, plenty of time.
This has also reflected the progress Farah has made. Rawiya says that every time she looks at her daughter’s face, she can tell there is improvement. “She had unnaturally weak feet, hands, and her head was always to the side,” she said while Farah was playing around, and constantly talking a habit she was incapable of without speech therapy.
This is the first audiology unit in East Jerusalem servicing Palestinian children in the city. UNICEF’s support did not end at procuring the rehab equipment, tools, PPEs and Audiology unit, but it also provided Audiology training for 10 Speech and Language therapists on the protocols of hearing assessments and writing quality reports on the results.
UNICEF works to ensure that children with disabilities and their families can access disability-inclusive health services, support and information in their communities, from early childhood through adolescence. Without the support of the Government of Norway it would not have been possible to support Farah and thousands of children with disabilities and give them a chance at a better life.