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Bashar Mohammad Naser
   
submitted by This Week In Palestine
18.09.2009

Testimonial

I was born in the village of Deir Qiddees, 17 kilometres to the south of Ramallah, far from the centre for services. The village has 2,000 inhabitants and a total area of 8,324 dunums. The village inhabitants depend on agriculture, mainly grains, olives, and figs. The majority of the people work inside Israel. The village is surrounded by settlements to the north and to the south. The village has water, electricity, and telephone networks, a high school, and a clinic.

We live in a modest house with the minimum basic living standards, due to limited household income, the high cost of living, and the commitments toward my disabled siblings. We are three siblings who suffer from the same type and degree of disability. However, we look forward to a future in which we can live in peace and tranquillity, in dignity, independence, and productivity.

What is interesting about my story is the presence of three disabled individuals in my family, which is not easy in Palestinian society, since there are many negative attitudes and ideas towards disabilities. Wherever we go, we see only pity, and we sense shyness and social stigmatisation, which exacerbate the psychological and physical burdens upon my family, particularly since the disability is complex: physical disability and the use of wheelchairs on the one hand, and severe joint deformities (the joints are severely twisted) of the hands and legs, which are susceptible to breakage at any moment, thus drawing too much attention from others and giving the impression that we are unable to do anything and that we need constant help even in activities of daily life.

Prior to the launching of the Community Based Rehabilitation programme (CBR), disabled children received no motivation, encouragement, or support to continue their education. There was little support for them in class, there was strong opposition to their presence by the students themselves and the teachers, in addition to the practical obstacles that would prevent us from reaching the school or the inability to use the school facilities, such as the restrooms and the playgrounds, as well as the inability to obtain a wheelchair or disabled-friendly adjustments at home or at school.

Negative attitudes represent one of the major obstacles to social and educational integration. There is a lot of harassment, feelings of pity, and over-protectiveness that limit the ability to build balanced relations with other students.

Undoubtedly, the CBR programme has managed, through its activities of house visit programmes and plans for community intervention at the level of schools, local organisations, and official institutions, to highlight the need for the society to pay attention to the question of disability and consider it an important issue within our Palestinian society. The series of interventions that the programme has undertaken - such as field statistical surveys, the analysis of the realities and conditions of the disabled, the establishment of committees of friends of disabled people, family self-support groups, programmes for collective activities for the disabled and the non-disabled, the facilitation of opportunities for integration - have all helped to encourage us to continue our education and overcome all the existing obstacles. They have helped increase our understanding and our view of the disabled from a rights-based approach.

What is of special interest in the rehabilitation programmes are the field workers who move from house to house, from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, from one organisation to the other, to search for disabled individuals in order to include them in local or regional activities.

The programme’s intervention came at the right time for me. I was in the preparatory phase at school, the time when I was almost going to drop out of school as a result of the pressures and the harassment that I suffered from during my education. However, through ongoing moral support I was able to continue my education, finish high school, and enrol at Birzeit University. I actually became one of the strong disabled people who advocate for the rights of the disabled to continue their education and defend their rights before governmental and non-governmental organisations. I graduated from university and got a job with one of the NGOs, thus enhancing my independence and productivity. Then, I decided to get married, which I did under conditions that none of my family members or friends or people at the village could believe. It was a courageous decision that was the source of motivation for many others. I have a son who fills my life with happiness. Disability can never be an obstacle for those who struggle and persevere in their lives.

Today I feel the difference between darkness and light, between life and death, between isolation and integration, between seclusion and participation.

Finally, I can summarise my story as follows: I was a child who was born disabled to a family where other members suffered from disabilities, under very difficult social, cultural, and economic conditions that do not provide for the minimum level of health and social care. How could I continue my journey under these harsh conditions, especially with all the other complications, harassments, and negative and disturbing attitudes? How could I continue my journey amidst a family that hesitates between continuing my education or taking care of my other siblings? How could a decision be made about what the priority would be? How could I continue my journey within educational and social institutions that show increasing levels of rejection to accommodate disabled people and who question and doubt our ability to continue our education? Undoubtedly we were surrounded by a wall of isolation, marginalisation, rejection, denial, harsh words interrupted by a sense of pity, sympathy, and feeling sorry for our condition.

The experience that leads us to overcome all these obstacles and helps us achieve an educational level and the ability to obtain a job and beyond, the ability to enjoy the right to get married and establish a family and live independently, reiterates the fact that disabled individuals can, with a little financial and moral support, assert themselves as active and productive partners in the society on the basis of equality, the equality of opportunities, and social justice.

TWIP September 2009

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