UNICEF supports visually impaired children and youth in Dara’a to reach their full potential
Sandra Awad and Lina Alqassab
Education is a basic right for every child, but when it comes to visually impaired children in Syria, the chances to access quality education are very slim. Even the few who could afford commuting to the capital and registering at special schools for the visually impaired were mostly forced to drop-out when conflict broke out over nine years ago.
In Dara’a city, in the southern part of the country, Al-Birr Charity has been working since the start of the conflict to maintain an education for those children. Now, UNICEF has taken the lead to capitalize those efforts and extend their reach, to integrate as many disabled children as possible into the educational system.
The intervention started by offering a Braille language course to eight children and young people from different parts of the governorate, giving them a tool to read and write, to be able to pursue education. The course also includes life-skills and psychosocial support sessions to equip participants with key communication and interpersonal skills, while supporting their mental and emotional wellbeing.
Mariam, 21, and Batoul, 20, met at a special boarding school for visually impaired students that they used to attend in Damascus prior to the conflict. Before taking this course, it had been years since they last entered a classroom.
“I’m so overwhelmed to be here. It’s like getting back to life!” says Batoul.
“I’m preparing to sit for the national Grade 12 exams, and this course is providing me with incredible support to achieve my goal,” jumps in Mariam.
Since formal education does not provide visually impaired learners with a special curriculum, the intervention is preparing a next stage that will include supporting the NGO to teach the national curriculum to visually impaired students, using audio materials and textbooks written in Braille. This will enable participants to study, sit for national exams and graduate from school to pursue higher education.
“We tracked around 70 visually impaired children who are enrolled in formal education and are in dire need of support to catch up with their peers,” explains Mahmoud Haj Ali, UNICEF education facilitator in the southern area.
“We are now also going door-to-door to identify those who are outside the education system so we can reach both groups in the upcoming phase of the intervention,” he adds.
“It’s only now that I started feeling equal to others,” says Raneem, 9, who dropped out-of-school two years ago due to the lack of support and accommodation for visually impaired students.
“She has become much happier and interactive since she started attending the course,” adds her mother.
UNICEF will also support five schools in Dara’a through training teachers and establishing resource rooms equipped with educational materials that are friendly to visually impaired students.
“Visually impaired students are very talented and capable. We only need to unveil their potentials,” says Khadija, the course’s teacher, who is very loved by her students.
Khadija is visually impaired herself. Even though she’s 42 now, her father comes with her to the classes every day as a show of his pride of her.
“I was lucky to find support when I was young, which enabled me to complete my education with two bachelor’s degrees,” says Khadija.
“I feel obligated to give back to others who are not as fortunate.”
Thanks to generous contributions from the European Union and Norway, UNICEF is supporting the learning of 3,500 out-of-school children and children at risk of dropping out, including 1,000 children with disabilities in Dara’a.