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Edmund Shehadeh, Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 29.05.2012:

This Week in Palestine

May 2012

Life in the occupied Palestinian territories remains harsh. Within the wider context of daily survival, little emphasis is placed on the needs of people with disabilities.

It was amidst this turmoil and these difficult living conditions that Mr. Edmund Shehadeh, who comes from a prominent family in Beit Jala in the Bethlehem District, started his professional career as a physiotherapist after graduating from a French university in 1965. He became the first and only Palestinian physiotherapist at that time. Although he had his private clinics in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, he volunteered his services as a physiotherapist at various public and private organisations and hospitals in various parts of Palestine.

Throughout his career, he noted the marginalisation of and discrimination against people with disabilities in the Palestinian society. Identifying with the suffering of this vulnerable group of the Palestinian population, i.e., people with disabilities, he was determined to do his best to relieve their suffering and improve the quality of their lives. This determination stemmed from a firm belief that people with disabilities are able to contribute to society, given the opportunity and the appropriate accessible environment where they can develop and maximise their potential.

In 1981, Mr. Shehadeh was appointed executive director of the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation (BASR), which was a turning point in his life. Since then, he has dedicated his professional life to meeting the needs of people with disabilities in his community and throughout Palestine. He’s made every effort to develop innovative health services (medical and rehabilitation services) at the national, intermediate, and grassroots levels to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities, and promote their well-being, inclusion, and full participation in society.

Over the years, Mr. Shehadeh’s work has resulted in great achievements that have really made a difference in the lives of many people. His charismatic leadership, dogged faith, and determination have turned BASR from one of Leonard Cheshire’s homes to a national centre of excellence that functions as a resource for the transfer of knowledge and expertise at the local, national, regional, and international levels. At present, BASR renders a wide range of specialised health, rehabilitation, and development services to the Palestinian population, with a special focus on people with disabilities.

Mr. Shehadeh’s adoption of a holistic approach to meeting beneficiaries’ needs has become a model to be replicated in the region, as it gives the most marginalised and vulnerable people in the Palestinian community, including those with disabilities, equal access to health, rehabilitation, educational, vocational, cultural, psychosocial, sports, leisure, and recreational services with love and dignity, rather than pity or charity. It also gives many people with disabilities equal employment and continuous training opportunities. In this respect, BASR is a pioneer, since 15 per cent of its staff members have some type of disability (physical, intellectual, or sensory). People with intellectual disabilities, who are the most marginalised in the Palestinian society, are also given vocational training and job opportunities, as well as opportunities for active participation in performing arts and cultural programmes. Under the incredible leadership of Mr. Shehadeh, BASR has maximised the potential of many of its staff and even others with disabilities, empowered them, and nurtured their development into leaders in the community.

The establishment of the community-based rehabilitation (CBR) programme in villages and refugee camps has set a good example of how people with disabilities are no longer seen as a burden, but they can bring development to their community. They can even give rights to others without disabilities, such as the right to employment. For instance, the establishment of the CBR programme and community day-care centres has empowered Palestinian women, who were also vulnerable and discriminated against (especially those with disabilities), and offered them job opportunities. This has contributed greatly to fostering positive societal attitudes towards disability and people with disabilities, and to educating families and community members, thus enhancing their understanding of disability issues from a human rights perspective.

Under Mr. Shehadeh’s leadership, BASR has also set inclusive education models at its community day-care centres that were replicated by many other organisations within and outside the Bethlehem District. The centres are places where children with disabilities can learn, play, and participate in various activities on equal grounds with their peers.

Mr. Shehadeh is renowned as an aggressive fundraiser who, through his strong faith in his humanitarian mission, is able to convince donors to offer their support. His strenuous efforts and contributions towards building up a new civil society that advocates freedom, equality, and justice for all citizens are outstanding and deserve all respect and appreciation.


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