Palestinian refugees in Bethlehem united to deal with disability

palestinian refugees bethlehem

Islam Abu Aouda, a Palestinian mother of six children, was born as a refugee in the Aida camp in Bethlehem, where she has organized with other women to support her disabled children, who receive little help from the Government or the UN agency. for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).

Aida, created in 1950 as a temporary tent camp to house the first Palestinian refugees that caused the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, is today an urban conglomeration of narrow streets and concrete buildings where some 5,500 people live, largely surrounded by the separation wall that Israel has been building since 2003 in the occupied West Bank.

Abu Aouda was raised in this compound, where precariousness and few future prospects affect many of its inhabitants, who survive in large part from UNRWA aid, with an increasingly limited budget since the United States reduced its contribution to this agency.

Their children, the third generation of refugees, also grew up in the countryside, and Mohamed, who is now 18 years old, has lived with many difficulties after suffering from cerebral palsy with serious effects on his motor skills and neurological development. He made it completely dependent.

In Aida camp and neighboring camp, says Abu Aouda, there are at least fifty refugee children with disabilities, and for years their families struggled alone to care for them, with no services to meet their special needs.

“We do not wait for anyone to solve our problems,” says Mohamed’s mother, who is 2010 founded the Nur association (‘light’, in Arabic) to manage the care of her children together with other refugee women in the same situation.

“At the beginning, it was hard for us to start, we did not have anything and any project was a challenge,” says Abu Aouda, who, among other activities, teaches Palestinian cuisine and dinners with traditional food that make small contributions to finance the entity.

The project of the association has been simmering since its inception, more and more women are collaborating and has a center where it offers sessions of physiotherapy, special education, speech therapy and language classes to about 45 children with a specific attention program, in addition to 300 children and adults with special needs who study their languages.

The public schools in the camps, managed by UNRWA, do not have their own programs for children with acute needs, says Abu Aouda, who for years took his son to a private school but notes that “many other children were not educated because their families they could not assume the cost “, something that, he assures, this has changed with the activities of Nur.

Its premises, in the heart of the Aida countryside, renovated with UNRWA funding from the Government of Belgium, is now a key point for the day to day of dozens of children and their families, with refugee girls who are teachers and a physiotherapist in charge of the physical problems of childhood.

“Many children need rehabilitation and intensive medical care that their families can not afford, but here we serve them with the most basic to improve their conditions,” says physiotherapist Saya Asad among stretchers, balls, and mattresses with drawings of Disney characters.

In an adjoining room, four children play together with their teacher, who teaches them to discern the colors while a children’s song plays in Arabic, and for the future, Abu Aouda considers that the main objective of Nur is to attract more women to bring to his children.

“Many families do not want to take their children to the center because they feel embarrassed, but we try to make them aware that having children with special needs is not a problem or a shame,” he remarks and notes that there is still a lot of work to be done in this area.

According to UN figures, five million Palestinian refugees, those who fled in 1948 and in subsequent waves and their descendants, live scattered in camps in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.

The claim of the right to return is among their main demands and is one of the obstacles in the peace negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, paralyzed since 2014.