A Palestinian  organization is providing a lifeline for families who have children with disabilities.

Founded in 2015, Noor Rehabilitation was established by a group of mothers with children with special needs who had a desire to improve the quality of life for their children.

The rehabilitation center, based in the Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem, provides therapy for children with a variety of physical and mental disabilities, including cerebral palsy, autism and down syndrome.

They accept disabled children from the age of 2 months up until teenage years (15-17 years old). The main therapies offered include physiotherapy, occupational and speech therapy and osteopathy treatments and they primarily serve residents of the Aida and Azza camps.

Paul Calvert of Bethlehem Voice spoke with Rua Abu Oda, founder of Noor Rehabilitation, to learn more about the organization and how they are helping this vulnerable sector of the population.

When asked about the formation of the association, Abu Oda explained how this group of moms came together.

“We are their main caretakers and we spend the whole day with our children — we know their problems and how they are suffering. We wanted to do something for them,” Abu Oda said.

In 2010, the women took their first step and decided to host Palestinian cooking classes, which served as a woman’s empowerment group. Five years later, in 2015, Rua said they had earned enough money to open Noor Rehabilitation. The word noor means light in Arabic, a reference to hope in the face of difficult circumstances.

In the beginning, the team conducted a survey by visiting different homes. That was when they discovered there were more than 300 people with disabilities in Aida camp alone, a large percentage of the population.

“The problem was that parents were hiding these children,” Abu Oda said. “There was a big shame. Even their neighbours didn’t know that they had a disabled child.”

They arranged for the families to meet with a psychologist and social worker to help them cope with the challenges of raising their special needs children. Rua said after five years, trust was built and the community recognized the important work that they were doing.

“Now they come to us — even carrying their children — and they say, ‘Here is the situation. Please try to help us.’”

 

Rua Abu Oda, founder of Noor Rehabilitation (Photo courtesy)

Abu Oda shared that her desire to establish Noor Rehabilitation came from personal experience, having grown up with a brother who has cerebral palsy. She watched her parents love and take care of him and she wanted to give that same love to others, as well as share what she learned about caring for children with special needs.

“Rehabilitation is very important for the family,” explained Abu Oda. “It doesn’t just mean you give me your child and I will take care of them. It’s changing your lifestyle and taking the first steps to care for your child.

Abu Oda believes that Noor Rehabilitation is making a difference in the community and that attitudes have changed. She said the children enjoy coming to the center and that it feels like one big family.

“We love each other a lot,” she said. “The children are used to seeing us in the morning and eating together at lunch time. We have fun together. We do some trips for the children around here in Bethlehem and Hebron. We pick up the children with their mothers because we also need the mothers to help.”

Noor continues to expand its enrichment activities. In February, the organization launched a new music therapy program.

“It is a really successful project,” said Abu Oda. “It’s not just about using music – it’s also a treatment.”

She says music has therapeutic effects for people suffering from mental health issues, such as autism.

Abu Oda finds great satisfaction in her work. She shared a recent success story.

“One of our children, Adham, is now 20 years old and attending university where he is studying social services. He can’t walk so he uses a wheelchair. He also has a problem with his eye and some problems in his hands so he cannot write. In the beginning, people were just looking at him as disabled, they tried to avoid him and things like that. But now he says a lot of people help him there. They don’t see his wheelchair. One by one they accepted his situation. Now it is normal. He is very excited to be finishing his first year.”

The staff at Noor Rehabilitation has encouraged Adham to finish his degree in psychology and to work for them.

Abu Oda told him, “If you graduate as a psychologist, you will be our psychologist.”

The center has increased in popularity and will need more space to accommodate the children and their various needs.

“One of our problems here is the space — it’s around 80 square meters, so it is small. We are thinking about a bigger place and renting another place maybe,” Abu Oda said. “We get some children from Lifegate Rehabilitation and Jemima Foundation in Beit Jala and others in Hebron. We also send people from here to Lifegate because it is close.

They would like to forge partnerships with other organizations for the disabled in the hopes that they can find the right solution for every child. Abu Oda explained that the services they provide are expensive, but they only charge a small nominal fee.

“We all love this work, but it’s hard at the same time. You need to understand first what you are doing, to understand the people that you are dealing with, to get help from the parents and from the children. It’s teamwork here,” she said.

Abu Oda hopes to hire more qualified staff members. She says it’s challenging to manage children with different needs because they try to give one-on-one sessions as much as possible.

They also welcome help from volunteers and donations to help with their daily operational costs.

“This would be a great help to us to have people partner with us in our work,” she said.

To learn more about Noor Rehabilitation, you can visit their Facebook page or their website at Noor Society for People with Disability.

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