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The society’s board was also aware of the complete lack of educational, social and rehabilitative services for the handicapped in Jordan. Eight years later, in 1979, the same women who took charge of the run-down Ashrafiyeh orphanage decided to take on another task – this time in wholly unfamiliar territory.

“It was like the blind leading the blind,” the Princess said. But they knew one thing for sure: The Ashrafiyeh premises were not suitable.

Unfortunately, royal or not, no one would lease property for a center for the disabled. People then were unexposed to the handicapped, because most families kept their disabled hidden away.

Finally, a two-apartment villa was found and converted into a multipurpose center that offered schooling, limited occupational therapy, physiotherapy and boarding. It was staffed by volunteer workers.

The founding members, who became the society’s board of directors, continued to help run and manage the society. Karen Asfour became involved with AHS in 1973, “after being drawn to this international group of women.”

“I became more and more active in the everyday running of the center,” American-born Mrs. Asfour said. “I have since filled many shoes and played various roles from social worker to executive secretary.

“You see, we were never an honorary board, we were, and still are, very involved,” she said. “Majda was our driving force. No job was beneath her, so nothing could be beneath us.”

It was through this involved board and its chairwoman that the center began to make heads turn, including the then head of state, King Hussein. He donated half an acre of land to the society for new premises.

A few years later, a grant from Sultan Kaboos of Oman finally enabled AHS to construct a modern learning and boarding center, the first of its kind in the country.

AHS moved into its new premises in 1984, in time for a state visit by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II who came to the facility and made her own donation of two wheelchair-accessible buses. Other grants from international organizations gave AHS a kick-start to begin educating children with severe physical disabilities unable to attend regular schools. This program ran parallel to the physical rehabilitation and boarding of 40 girls and boys, most of them from outside the capital.

“After a few years, we closed down our boarding section, as the new rehabilitation philosophy called for social integration of physically challenged individuals rather than their isolation,” Mrs. Asfour said. The children returned to live with their parents as full members of their communities.

All the while, AHS continued to expand its knowledge, resources and human capital. With the society’s growth came social and political maturity. In 1993, Jordan’s first Law for the Welfare of Disabled Persons was enacted giving AHS motivation to carry on.

“It took on a life of its own,” the Princess said, as AHS became the only non-governmental organization in Jordan to provide services with a holistic approach toward physically challenged individuals.

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Tags: Jordan Health Care Disabilities