Tough Times for the Disabled

The Star Mountain Rehabilitation Centre near Ramallah is a centre for physically and mentally disabled children and young people. Key components of its rehabilitation work include raising awareness and fighting prejudice. By Sumaya Farhat-Naser

Star Mountain Rehabilitation Centre (photo: Herrnhuter Missionshilfe
Every day, over 50 disabled children and youngsters come to the centre from the surrounding villages to take part in rehabilitation activities or receive vocational training

​​When a woman in Palestine gives birth to a disabled child, her relatives often regard the event as a disgrace or a punishment meted out by God. Some even believe that the devil had a hand in matters or that magic and evil spirits were at work.

This explains why some families tend to hide their disabled children. Others refuse to admit that their child has a disability and fear that no-one will marry the child's siblings.

Knowledge, a sense of humanity, and tact are needed to convince the families concerned to accept their disabled children and look after them. Indeed, there is a religious duty to accept them, care for them and help them: Islam explicitly calls for sympathy for disabled persons.

Rehab in an occupied zone

After more than 40 years of military occupation, life is far from normal in Palestine. It was and is generally the case that both young and old just about manage to take care of the absolute necessities.

There is little room for cultural activities, rest, pleasure, development or simply a normal life. Many people in the country – children and adults alike – are traumatised and isolate themselves from others. Many feel persecuted or threatened and would like to flee.

Star Mountain Rehabilitation Centre (photo: Herrnhuter Missionshilfe)
Early support for the disabled, music therapy and art therapy are three pillars of the rehabilitation work at the Star Mountain Rehabilitation Centre

​​People in Palestine are on constant alert, expecting the worst and hoping for an improvement in the situation. They would like to start afresh and long for more breathing space. The situation is so gruelling that it drains many of the energy they need to work and be creative.

There has also been a considerable deterioration in training and education too. Psychological stress is evident throughout society. It goes without saying that the bleak overall situation is especially hard on disabled people because it means that they are not getting the attention they need and to which they are entitled.

The Star Mountain Rehabilitation Centre tries to improve matters. Every day, more than 50 disabled children and youngsters come to the centre from the surrounding villages to take part in rehabilitation activities or receive vocational training.

Shortage of trained staff

These disabled children learn, play, train, receive physiotherapy, paint and sing. Quite apart from feeding their appetites, the hot midday meal they are served every day is a shared ritual that gives them a sense of community and teaches them how to eat at the table with their family at home.

Star Mountain Rehabilitation Centre (photo: Herrnhuter Missionshilfe)
Obstacles to overcome: 500 road blocks and the exclusion wall make it very difficult for Palestinians to get where they want to go

​​In order to address the needs of the disabled, the centre needs both keen, specially trained staff and other responsible persons. Sadly, there is a serious lack of adequate personnel – not least because more than 500 road blocks and the exclusion wall separate cities and towns in the occupied territories, robbing Palestinians of their human right to plan and move about. A trip that would normally take ten minutes lasts an hour, and a journey that should take only one hour lasts three.

The children who attend the Star Mountain Rehabilitation Centre come from five villages. A total of 860 disabled people were counted in these settlements and four other small towns. In reality, it is likely that there are at least twice as many. One probable reason for this large number is the fact that people in the region tend to marry within their extended families.

Permanent state of uncertainty

It is a daily source of worry whether the children and young people will be allowed to pass the Atara checkpoint. Delays of one to two hours are always factored into journeys to and from the centre. This also means that Star Mountain's 38 employees never know exactly when they will get home, which means that their families live in constant uncertainty too.

The young people often have to wait in the bus at the roadblock for lengthy periods. This can make them anxious and agitated, making it necessary to organise an additional supervisor to keep them

Sumaya Farhat-Naser (photo: DW)
Sumaya Farhat-Naser is the author of numerous books and director of the Star Mountain Rehabilitation Centre

​​calm. Understandably, this is a great source of worry for their families. Some are even reluctant to keep on sending their children to Star Mountain because they are afraid that their children may not be able to react appropriately and escape should violence break out. In such cases, it is important for staff to visit the families at home in order to reassure them and keep them informed.

Life is never simple, but under military occupation everything is even more arduous. Productivity lapses, time is wasted, motivation and energy levels fall. Nerves become fraught and the mind uneasy because people never know what will happen and whether they will get where they want to go.

For each and every activity, people need a plan B. At the end of the day, people are happy if they achieve half of what they set out to do, because this in itself is an achievement. It is therefore very important to coach and encourage the staff, boost their spirits and ensure they do not lose motivation.

Integrating the disabled into the local community

The Star Mountain Rehabilitation Centre focuses on integrating the disabled into their local communities as much as possible. With the help of local people, for instance, "resource rooms" are set up in schools, nurseries, youth clubs, or women's organisations in centrally located villages. These rooms serve as meeting points.

Village committees that assume responsibility for the disabled are also established. They receive support and training from Star Mountain staff, the Medical Relief Organisation and staff in the villages.

The rehabilitation work done by the centre is intended to help change attitudes towards disabilities and enhance the image of disabled people. To this end, it is necessary to break down prejudices and improve the quality of life of people with disabilities by helping them to become more independent.

This can be done through early diagnosis and early intervention, a mobilisation of the village community, and an increase in capacity by training employees and family members. It also helps to have village committees that get involved and share the workload at grassroots level.

Sumaya Farhat-Naser

© Development and Cooperation 2009

Sumaya Farhat-Naser is the author of numerous books and the director of the Star Mountain Rehabilitation Centre. The centre relies on support from international agencies and receives funding from the German Protestant charity Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World), among others.

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