Unlocking Talents

Center in Jordan generates understanding and opportunities for disabled youth

text by Sahar Aloul
photographs by Bill Lyons

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Our Lady of Peace Center in Amman, Jordan, is more than just a rehabilitation center for the disabled; it is a meeting point for Christians and Muslims, caring adults and handicapped children, rich and poor. The center’s administration makes it so, ensuring that the facility is open to everyone regardless of ethnicity, religion or social background.

Inaugurated in April 2004 on behalf of Queen Rania by Prince Ra’d bin Zeid and his wife, Princess Majda, longtime advocates of Jordan’s handicapped, the center serves disabled children at no cost to their families.

The facility, whose funding took six years to secure, is the brainchild of Bishop Selim Sayegh, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan. He envisaged a comprehensive retreat and rehabilitation center offering academic classes, vocational training, physiotherapy, basic medical care, as well as community outreach programs.

“[The center] will be a source of consciousness raising, in order to teach and train the whole of Jordanian civil society to respect the basic rights of the physically or mentally challenged. It will guarantee equality of treatment both in their families and communities and in public institutions,” said the bishop.

Promoting community service is also an integral part of the center’s mission. The majority of those who work at the facility, which cost $3 million to build and equip, are volunteers.

“One of the things we concentrate on is promoting voluntary service and community work by opening our doors to volunteers and encouraging the integration of the handicapped with their local communities,” said Majdi Dayyat, the center’s general manager.

“We work to help parents understand they should never feel embarrassed by their children’s disability, and that their children have the right to become active members in their families and communities,” he added.

The center offers parent-child programs on weekends to encourage parents to be more involved in their children’s lives.

Jordan has a relatively high number of disabled people, with recent statistics disclosing that 9.8 percent of the country’s total population of 5.2 million has some form of disability. Some 260,000 of the handicapped are under the age of 18.

The general public, however, remains largely unaware of the rights of the disabled, with some choosing to ignore their existence altogether. In the past, parents would hide their disabled children for fear of shame and humiliation they believed their children’s disability might bring on them.

Mr. Dayyat, however, believes things are changing slowly, with negative attitudes toward the physically and mentally disabled on the decrease.

“Jordan has come a long way with respect to the handicapped,” he said. “It’s not a question of prejudice; it’s just a matter of ignorance. How does one deal with people who have special needs?”

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Tags: Children Jordan Disabilities