Miracles Happen in Bethlehem

by Carol Hunnybun
photos: CNEWA files

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In the complex circumstances surrounding physical handicap, the help given must not be merely physical, but also emotional and intellectual. Sometimes, release from bodily pain is only the beginning of a long struggle for independence and well-being, in which the mind and heart must also be nourished and strengthened. This kind of help is provided at the Arab Society for the Physically Handicapped in Bethlehem, a home for girls, and the result can be seen in the stories of three of its young residents.

Hilda was the only disabled member in a family of nine children. Severely handicapped in infancy as a result of poliomyelitis, she was left with the Sisters of Charity. It was not until the age of eleven that she came to the Home, illiterate and unhappy. Now, twenty years later, although confined to a wheelchair, she can read and write in Arabic and English, and has developed her musical talents. As a result, she is able to teach the children who are too infirm to go out to school, lead musical sessions both at home and at celebrations in the Bethlehem area, and deal with all sorts of jobs that need doing in the Home. In this way she has gained some measure of financial independence.

Nine-year-old Joumana has been at the Home since she was a baby. It is the only home she has, because her father is dead and her mother is mentally unstable, periodically having to spend time in the mental hospital. Joumana’s upper and lower limbs were severely affected by polio, and she started therapy at the age of two years.

Despite her problems, Joumana’s progress has been steady. After surgery, she was able to walk with the help of crutches and braces on both legs. Now she walks without crutches, and with only one brace. She is being taught to make the best use of the strength she has, doing her exercises regularly, so that in the future with the benefit of studies and training she will be able to earn her own living and be independent of welfare and institutions. None of this is easy, either for Joumana or for her physical therapists and teachers, and sometimes she has moods of deep depression and weariness. But normally she is a reliable helper with the household chores and a cheerful companion for the others.

Halimeh, aged only three, has just arrived at the Home. Also a victim of polio, she is at present too disoriented to speak, although she can. Her clothes are ragged and she crawls about on all fours, propelling herself with her arms and stomach muscles instead of her useless legs. The first priority is to clothe and feed her properly and to give her corrective surgery for her back and deformed feet and legs. After this, she will follow a regime of physical therapy in the well-equipped department in the Home. Eventually, she will be trained like Joumana to walk and become a fully independent member of society.

Such striking progress can only be achieved with money and effort. Until recently, the Home was able to provide little more than shelter and medical care for the 17 handicapped girls who lived there. It lacked the specialized equipment necessary for rehabilitative physical therapy and vocational training. The building itself had no heating in the winter, and was in need of renovation and repair. There were no facilities for out-patients.

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Tags: Children Health Care Bethlehem Disabilities Funding