For children living with disabilities as well as their parents, impairment often acts as a social barrier. Due to negative stereotypes, these children are frequently excluded by their communities and secluded by their parents. This hinders their access to basic rights, including the right to education. In Jordan, an ICMC program empowered affected families to seek a better future.
The difficult situation of children with disabilities in families of vulnerable Syrian refugees or of Jordanians living in marginalized communities may be aggravated by the absence of proper infrastructure, services and awareness. A 2015 study suggested that 3% of school-aged refugee children were disabled and that less than half of them were attending school due to lack of accessibility.
To give these vulnerable children and their families the chance of a better quality of life, the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) Jordan launched its Empowering Children and Youth through Inclusive Social Services project in early 2019. Project activities took place in the ICMC Protection Center in the Mafraq Governorate.
Funded by the Australian Embassy in Jordan’s Direct Aid Program (DAP), the project provided support to 126 children with disabilities and their families over six months. It focused on building the capacities of the children and their parents, empowering them to break through the barriers separating them from their community.
At the Protection Center’s Child-Friendly Space, the children were integrated into their peer groups. Together, all the children attended the same recreational and educational activities. As result, the confidence and self-esteem of children with disabilities was strengthened, while the acceptance and tolerance of their peers was nurtured.
Commenting on the program’s impact on her disabled child, Hasna*, the mother of a Syrian refugee boy said: “My son Hussam* was born with speech and physical impairments. He used to avoid all types of interaction with others, particularly with other children. However, throughout his participation in ICMC’s program for children with disabilities, I began to notice gradual positive changes in his personality. He is no longer embarrassed to interact with his peers nor compelled to hide from the world around him.”
As part of the project’s activities, ICMC organized awareness-raising sessions for the parents. These sessions aimed to increase their acceptance of their children and provide them with the moral support and empowerment needed to ensure better access to basic rights, particularly the right to education, for their children.
Through this program, ICMC invited members of the local community who have children with disabilities to speak in some of the awareness-raising sessions for parents participating in the project. They shared their personal experiences and strategies for navigating the difficulties imposed by the community’s social norms relating to people with disabilities. They also introduced the parents to organizations specialized in serving people with disabilities.
On 27 November 2019, a special event marked the conclusion of the program. Participating parents were encouraged to continue seeking better opportunities for their children to grow and develop to become productive members of their communities. At end of the event, the children received a backpack filled with inclusive educational and recreational items as a parting gift and token of ICMC’s appreciation for their time and the effort invested in the program.
* Names have been changed to protect refugees’ identities.