Cindy goes to school

December 16, 2007

MCC sponsors two very special schools in Jordan through the Global Family Program.

The Arab Episcopal School (AES) of Irbid, in northern Jordan, was founded in 2003 as an innovative kindergarten program to integrate blind and low vision with normal sighted children. On my recent visit, the school was bustling with activity and anticipation. Its long awaited addition had been completed, and would officially open December 12th with a special community celebration.

Sabah Zurigat, headmistress at Arab Episcopal School, with her daughter

This addition houses four newly furnished, decorated classrooms which provide an inviting, child-friendly learning environment; as well as a small kitchen and additional office space. There is now space for art, music, and religion classes; and resource rooms where teachers can work with special needs children one on one in a quiet, distraction free environment. But most importantly, the expanded space helps advance the school’s vision of providing quality integrated education through grade 6 for all blind students in Irbid and the surrounding community.

Lindsey Brubacher, an MCC SALT service worker at AES, describes one of the kindergarten students. Anaram is 4 1/2 years old and this is her first year at AES. She has been blind since birth due to complications with her birth. When Anaram first started attending the school in August, she could not walk properly, climb stairs, or use the bathroom by herself, and she had difficulty grasping objects. Her motor skills were far below those of other children her age. Therefore, it was necessary to start by teaching her basic life skills.

It is amazing to consider the progress Amaram has gained in the short time she has been attending the school. She can turn on the water by herself, use the bathroom, and instead of holding onto someone with two hands when being directed, she can now walk around hesitantly by herself. Initially she could not feel the enlarged bumps of the Braille letters to even distinguish between them; but, now she can identify nearly ten of them. All this in less than four months! Anaram’s progress is just one example of the impact the school has on the children who attend.

The second school I visited was The Holy Land Institute for the Deaf in Salt. Global Family provides support for the Institute’s Deafblind unit which provides education, rehabilitation and care facilities for one of the most neglected and under-served groups in the Middle East.

Generally deafblind children face a life of isolation, neglect, understimulation, and emotional, cognitive and social starvation. Not so at the HLID Deafblind unit! Housed in a corner of the Holy Land Institute’s compound, the deafblind unit provides a welcoming home and family atmosphere for its 4 special residents.

Mohammed, a very clever 15-year-old, is showing a lot of improvement with the help of a hearing aid. He is learning to write Braille, and made beautiful cards for his teachers, using the “type” machine. Each child in the unit has a personal year plan, which describes how and what they will learn. Mohammed keeps a schedule of his activities for the day with the help of a calendar book combining tactile pictures and Braille. He was curious and eager to meet new friends. His laughter was infectious.

Basheer, also 15 years old, was engaged in a math activity with his teacher for the day. The children each receive differentiated, developmental one-on-one instruction in language, social, and practical skills from loving, professional teachers and care givers. They eat their meals in the institute dining hall, and share in responsibilities of setting the tables and taking out the trash. While at one time Basheer spent the weekends at the unit, he now also goes home to spend time with his family.

Eight-year-old Noor, who has been in the deafblind unit since age three, is blossoming into a beautiful young girl. She was surprised and happy to receive a card from a sponsor/friend in Canada. Her teacher translated and interpreted the message of encouragement and blessing. The teachers design books using symbols and Braille based on the children’s everyday experiences. The most recent project was a visual/Braille cookbook which the children use to help prepare snacks and treats for their friends.

Before coming to the Holy Land Institute, 8-year-old Issa spent some time at a kindergarten for blind children in Amman. Even though his hearing is normal, he did not speak. This past year Issa has made significant improvement in the deafblind unit. He is learning practical life skills, identifying people and objects, and understanding the concept of time. Issa loves music. He was listening to his cassette player and with the help of his teacher, moved in response to the music.

The Deafblind unit is filled to capacity. However, there are many more disabled the Deafblind unit provides education, rehabilitation and care facilities for one of the most neglected and under-served groups in the Middle East.

Generally deafblind children face a life of isolation, neglect, understimulation, and emotional, cognitive and social starvation. Not so at the HLID Deafblind unit! Housed in a corner of the Holy Land Institute’s compound, the deafblind unit provides a welcoming home and family atmosphere for its four special residents.

I was inspired by the creative programs and loving staff at both schools. Children, who happen to be deaf and/or blind, receive light, hope and love.

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