Palestinian children with disabilities are determined to learn

The most invisible and vulnerable children in society are discovering ability beyond their disability

By Monica Awad
Hammam, 10, shows off the magnifying glass he uses
UNICEF State of Palestine/ 2017/ Ahed Izhiman
02 June 2017

HEBRON, State of Palestine, 2 June 2017 – For 12-year-old Wi’am, attending the Blind Charitable Society School is a blessing.

“I am so happy that I am able to learn using Braille,” says Wi’am as she places her tiny fingers over raised dots to read her Arabic class. “My favourite subject in class is English because it helps me communicate with the world,” she adds with pride.

The Blind Charitable Society School serves 67 Palestinian students living with impaired vision in the Hebron Governorate. Established in 1996, the school helps students like Wi’am and others to grow and develop to their full potential.

UNICEF State of Palestine/ 2017/ Ahed Izhiman

Wi’am uses a braille machine during her Arabic class. She says that her favourite subject in class is English because it helps her better communicate with the world.

“I hold awareness-raising sessions for parents of children with disabilities to make them better understand the rights and the services that their children are entitled to,” says Safaa, Blind Charitable Society School Principal. “All children have the right to be treated with dignity,” she adds.

The vulnerabilities facing Palestinian children living with disabilities are often overlapping, leaving many children at greater risk. Children living in rural areas have less access to basic services including educational facilities. With funding from the community, the school has secured a bus to transport students to school on a daily basis to overcome this challenge. The children living in remote areas can stay in the school dormitory.

“Out of 67 students in our school, 13 who come from villages stay in the dormitory,” says Safaa. 

UNICEF State of Palestine/ 2017/ Ahed Izhiman

A teacher helps students to play with colourful educational tools that enable them to concentrate by inserting a string into small balls.

Inspiring children counter stigma and discrimination

Like all children, those with disabilities have many abilities, but they are often discriminated against and excluded from society, and they lack support. This leaves them among the most invisible and vulnerable children in their society.

Hammam, 10, was diagnosed with a brain tumour at the age of three. A surgery meant to treat the tumour left him blind.

But Hammam is an inspiration not only to his community, but the whole world. His determination made him the top student in class. His visual impairment never stopped him from dreaming and continuing to learn. 

“Religion is my favourite subject in class,” Hammam says with a smile. “I dream of becoming an Imam when I grow up.”

UNICEF State of Palestine/ 2017/ Ahed Izhiman

Children playing in the school playground during recess.

Transformational results

A 2016 UNICEF study on children with disabilities in the State of Palestine shows that the stigma surrounding children with disabilities is very strong and pervasive. 

“That stigma is prevalent in the community and in some instances even inside the home,” says Kumiko Imai, Chief of Social Policy at UNICEF. “Yet, we witness transformational results when children benefit from appropriately tailored health care and inclusive education systems, like Wi’am and Hammam do.”

Wi’am, who is living proof that children like her can further develop their society, spoke during the local launch of the UNICEF study.  

“I was a bit scared when I spoke at the opening of the launch,” says Wi’am, who was sitting next to Palestinian ministers and high officials. “After ending my speech, and as I heard the audience clapping for me, I realized how I can transform this world,” she says.