AQABA – In the south of Jordan, the Church is fighting to provide dignified care for people with disabilities and to raise awareness on the subject.
At the end of the desert that crosses the country, between arid mountains, stands the city of Aqaba, on the borders of Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The last city in southern Jordan has a more limited Christian presence than the rest of the country, a fact that does not prevent the Latin Church from leaving a strong social print. Our Lady of Peace Center, which provides care for people with disabilities, opened a branch in the heart of the city on May 15, 2011. “When the government saw the positive impact of our action, they gave us a land there,” explains Sahem Madanat, the Center’s director.
Compared to other existing structures for disabled people, Our Lady of Peace Center has the characteristic of offering individual and personalized follow-up. The institution offers different services: physiotherapy, speech therapy, intervention unit and occupational therapy. Each service has to deal with a long waiting list. The families of Aqaba and its surrounding areas come here for the professionalism and the free care. “We take care of a disabled person every hour,” says Ramy, the director of the Aqaba branch.
Carrying the cause of disability, a long-term job
In this establishment supported by the Latin Patriarchate, all employees are of Muslim faith; it is above all the fight for the dignity of disabled people. Before becoming the director, Ramy was a student at the University of Jordan. One day, while playing basketball with his friends, a young person with Down’s syndrome, who wanted to join the game was rejected by the rest of the team. Ramy got angry and outraged by this situation. “This story pushed me to get involved. It was from then on that I started volunteering to help people with disabilities, especially at Our Lady of Peace Center”. A few years later, his position as director allowed him to continue to invest in a cause he believes in. He is convinced that the model of the Center is essential in Jordanian society, in order to raise awareness of the human wealth of people with disabilities and increase the opportunities for interaction between these young people and society. Recently, he launched a program to give computer courses to young people with a mental or physical disability. In addition to being a great medium that helps them overcome the problem of isolation, this training aims to become a professional one.
Like this trial program in Aqaba, Sahem Madanat would like to implement several training courses that aim to help with the integration of disabled people into Jordanian society in the main branch of the Center in Amman, where school children, who are above 14 years old, are not supported.
JORDAN – Born prematurely at seven months, Abdel Azziz was condemned to death. However, the selflessness of his parents has shaken the trajectory of this little boy, now almost two years old, who has been following physiotherapy sessions for the past three months at Our Lady of Peace Center. A testimony was collected as part of our new series of reports: “Success stories of Our Lady of Peace Center”.
“He fought to live”
In the cheerfully noisy hall of Our Lady of Peace Center, the low and serene voice of Suha, mother of Abdel Azziz trembles. The story of her son is recent and her voice is full of emotion, but she knows that this testimony can initiate change and open doors. So, she takes a breath and shares the story. “It was a terrible night. I was seven months pregnant and I started to feel severe abdominal pain. My husband immediately took me to the hospital”. As a nurse, Suha was worried because, she knew that these pains do not bode well for pregnancy. The doctors were not worried and made her wait for long hours… until her water broke. The little Abdel Azziz was born on November 11, 2015, aged 31 weeks, in critical condition. “He had a weak heart rate and his blood pressure was low… it seemed like the end,” said Suha. “I still remember the doctor ordering the pediatrician to cover him up and let him die. But I refused that because my son’s heart was still beating. They therefore agreed to put him in an incubator”.
Two weeks passed during which Suha and her husband, despite their close families and the health care team, were the only ones to believe that the child would live. Abdel Azziz simultaneously suffered a brain hemorrhage and a lung infection, caused by the hygiene problems of the hospital. “During this time, I could only pray. He finally managed to put on weight and he fought… he fought to live”.
Abdel Azziz was then sent home with his parents and was put in an isolated room to avoid any new infections. For weeks, Suha was the only one who helped him in this small space, only going out occasionally to take care of her other children. “Abdel Azziz is getting better little by little and his condition has stabilized. Despite all the health problems associated with early birth, he is alive. Suha has also follow up appointments with specialists of all kinds: oculists, physiotherapists… but the disillusion is great: care is too expensive and not always up to par. “Here in the Arab world, they do not care for people with disabilities because they think they will be useless”, Suha said. Far from being discouraged, she continues to search for the best for her son. The lack of oxygen at birth has caused a delay motor all over his left side and he must follow intense physiotherapy sessions. One day, by word of mouth, she heard about Our Lady of Peace Center and the free care. She put him on a waiting list after which doors opened.
At Our Lady of Peace Center, another chance in life
Three months later, the boy showed a great progress coming and going in the hall of Our Lady of Peace Center. Behind his round glasses, he defies with an amused look the strangers he meets and shouts his joy of life at the top of his lungs. Hanan, a physiotherapist is proud to see that in a few sessions, he has almost reached the motor skills of a “normal” child of the same age. Today, Abdel Azziz has taken a new step: he will follow his first session in the department “Early Intervention Unit”, a program that assesses all the cognitive and intellectual abilities of the child. “The love they give to children, the professionalism, the equipment and of course the free care … everything is different here and we are happy to have found the best for Abdel Azziz” said Suha smiling. For her, the model of the Center offers a beautiful response to a blatant suffering in Jordan: that of a disabled population still largely hidden because disability is still seen with shame in the eyes of society. Yet 13% of Jordanians have a disability. “For a disabled child to live, even more here than elsewhere, you have to sacrifice everything,” said Suha.
Gradually, the taboo of disability is slowly crumbling in Jordan thanks to the courage of Suha and so many other parents, convinced of the dignity of their children. But the road is long. On the waiting list, many patients are still waiting to be treated and accompanied because, even if the number of patients increases exponentially, the number of the care staff remains stable. Free care at Our Lady of Peace Center depends entirely on the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and other organizations, and the financial stability of this immense infrastructure continually requires new donors. This free care is an unexpected benefit for many families who would not be able to seek treatment at the Center without this condition.
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