Monday, November 11, 2013

The Reality on the Ground

As you may have noticed, I have been in Jordan for about one month and have yet to provide a project update. The reason for this is twofold. First, I purposely didn't plan things for the first couple weeks after I arrived. My first few weeks in Japan were utterly overwhelming with culture shock and jet lag, so I opted for a nice slow start here in Jordan. And I'm happy to say it has been a very smooth transition to this new part of the world. There is another reason for the lack of project posts though. The reality is that there are not many provisions for people with special needs in Jordan.

I have spent time the last few weeks thinking about how I want to portray what I'm learning. I certainly don't want to just point out things that Jordan is doing poorly in the area of disability provisions, but I do want to be honest. I want to bring to light some of the challenges different entities face as the country works toward advancement in this area and also highlight some of the interesting and courageous things people are doing despite these challenges.

The reality of the conditions for people with special needs in Jordan has necessitated a mindset adjustment. The questions I asked in Japan aren't applicable here. The concerns of parents and the governmental issues I learned about in Tokyo are not the same in Amman. In fact, after my first couple project related visits I wasn't even sure I would stay in Jordan for the full three months I had planned. I was so busy in Japan and there was so much I didn't even see there. At first glance, it didn't look like there would be much for me to do here in Jordan. However, after coming up with new questions and adjusting my mindset I am confident I will have no problem filling my time. There are a lot of intricacies to be uncovered and I look forward to learning all I can.

So what have I learned so far? Early on I went to visit the Jasmine Society for Down Syndrome Children. This society was started by a group of very passionate parents about three years ago. I met with the president of the society who has a four year daughter with Down's. She explained that because I have a very special sibling, it is like I am part of the family. It was a very welcoming sentiment. The Jasmine Society provides early intervention services free of charge. Mothers bring in their child about once a week for a 45 minute session where a trained early intervention specialist instructs the mothers on how to best help the child learn and develop. For example, the mothers learn different techniques for strengthening their child's jaw to improve speech or they learn different games to help their child identify colors and objects.

Before the Jasmine Society began there was no such support for parents and their children. They are providing an innovative and unique service for these families. And most importantly, the Jasmine Society is providing the families with hope. In a country where medical professionals and government organizations say that children with Down's Syndrome are incapable of learning and cannot contribute to society, the Jasmine Society teaches otherwise. They encourage parents and give them the resources to help their child reach their full potential.

In addition to the Jasmine Society, I have been involved with an organization called Nour Al Barakah on a regular basis. This is a one-of-a-kind organization, founded in 2009, that provides opportunities for adults with intellectual disabilities. Also started by a group of parents, Nour Al Barakah rents a small piece of land in the city where they have built a nice classroom-like facility and started a garden. They meet in the evenings at least three times a week. One day is a community work day where local high school students often come to help in the garden and interact with the special needs individuals. Also on this day, a volunteer comes in to do a movement/exercise class for the participants. Volunteers come on other days to teach a music class and an art class as well. They provide a safe environment for adults with special needs to do something fun and socialize with their friends.

The garden, very well maintained.
Playing with a beach ball. The kids LOVE this!
Art class!
Painting pasta to make into a necklace.

I'm really glad I have been able to go regularly and get to know some of the special people that utilize Nour Al Barakah. It took a while for the kids to warm up to me and trust me. I finally felt like I was "in" when one day my sweet friend, Basma, greeted me with the traditional kiss on both cheeks. I definitely cherish that moment. Looking forward to more good times with this great group of people!

Spot the cat in this cute park adjacent to Nour Al Barakah. 

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