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November 19, 2002

School breaks silence on disabled children

From: Daily Star, Lebanon
Nov. 19, 2002

Hadi Institute transforms the world for deaf, blind students
Before she learned the art of sign language, Fatmeh was facing a life of quiet misery

Cilina Nasser
Daily Star staff
When she was younger, 9-year-old Fatmeh Qanso’s parents could not understand what she was saying.

Though she was the first child in the family to be born deaf, her younger sister soon followed.
But during Fatmeh’s time at the Hadi Institute, she has learned to communicate in sign language. And now she can explain to The Daily Star with her fingers that she taught her father the language that allows them to communicate.
Fatmeh is among 350 students enrolled at the institution, which was founded in 1988 by the Mabarrat Association that is sponsored by Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, a senior Shiite cleric.
The idea of setting up the institute came up when some young blind people visited Fadlallah and described their unclear future, according to the head of the Hadi Institute, Ismail al-Zein.
At that time, there was only one school for the blind in the Lebanese capital and it was located in East Beirut, which was then dominated by Christian militias, making it difficult for the blind in West Beirut to cross the Green Line on a daily basis to attend their classes.
To help them, Fadlallah rented an apartment in the southern suburbs of Beirut where they received vocational training as well as instruction to read in Braille. At first, it included only eight students, all of whom were over 15.
Since the Mabarrat Association had no human or technical resources in this field, Zein said it sent teachers to countries such as Jordan and Syria, to learn how to care for the blind.
And after one year, so many families of blind children had contacted the association about services for the blind that it opened up the Nour School in Sfeir.
“The number of students grew gradually year after year, which was good for the teachers who were able to familiarize themselves with the subjects taught to the students,” Zein said.
In the early 1990s, the Hadi Institute opened the Rajaa School for the Deaf.
But as the number of students increased and more equipment was needed, the two schools moved to a building that was designed for the blind and deaf in Bir Hassan and funded by a Kuwaiti businessman, Osama Kazemi.
The elevator at the building includes Braille symbols for the number of the floors, while the classrooms for the deaf have green and red lights above the board.
“The teacher switches the green light on and off to make the students pay attention to her explanation, while the red light turns on to tell the students that the bell is ringing, indicating the end of the class,” said Nayef Bazzi, the education supervisor for the Hope School for the Deaf, one of the Hadi Institute’s two schools.
Over the years, activities taught at the institute have evolved from handicrafts to computer training. It now has 10 computers, installed with software designed specifically for the blind and deaf. The Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia donated five of the computers, while the Spanish Embassy provided the other five. The Japanese Embassy donated a printer for Braille readers.
Two classes, focusing on speech and communication disorders, kicked off this academic year, after the British Cultural Center assisted in sending Bazzi and other teachers to schools in Great Britain for 10 days this summer in order to learn the curriculum.
There are 20 students in both classes, with ages ranging from 4 to 12.
Bazzi explained that the classes target those suffering from aphasia and dysphasia, or from psychological problems that have caused various speech impediments.
Aphasia is an acquired language disorder involving severe impairments in both comprehension and production.
Dysphasia, which may cause problems with talking, listening, writing and using numbers, is caused by brain damage.
Teachers at the institute preferred not to elaborate on the classes as they are just getting off the ground. However, Zein said that he was hoping to provide Maketon training in the future. This kind of training allows those with language disorders to relate words and letters to symbols and pictures.
The Mabarrat Association also sponsors 10 schools, one vocational school, two hospitals and six orphanages, including Mabarrat Sayyida Khadija.
Mabarrat Sayyida Khadija takes care of 580 girls, including 400 who are also lodged and fed.
Since many of its children come from poor families, the orphanage has focused some of its energy on cleanliness.
“We show each child illustrations and ask her to make up a story about cleanliness,” Krayem said. “She would talk about the bad habits related to cleanliness conducted at her home, allowing us to know more about how to deal with her on that issue.”
The cost for each child is at least $2,500 per year. Due to the recession, the institute has proposed a sponsorship program where the financial burden is shared. If sponsoring for a child is unavailable, the institute relies on donations.

Readers can contact the Mabarrat Association at:

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