Supporting Syrian refugees and others with disabilities in Jordan

Al Hussein Society staff measuring Syrian child for mobility device in Azraq refugee camp, Jordan .
Rosi Jack.
Author:Rosi Jack
Posted on: Friday, 27th January, 2017

One of my personal highlights from late last year was meeting Annie Medzhagopian Abu Hanna, Executive Director of CBM partner Al-Hussein Society in Jordan. While on a visit to the UK, she came to our office in Cambridge to update us on their work. It was striking to hear in particular how, with CBM support, Al-Hussein Society is responding to the huge increase in demand for its services as Jordan hosts over a million Syrians who have fled the conflict tearing apart their homeland.

A huge increase in need

Al Hussein Society (AHS), a CBM partner for 20 years, has been working to improve the lives of people with disabilities in Jordan, and specifically children with physical disabilities, since 1971.  They provide comprehensive rehabilitation and support services and promote  inclusion of people with disability in society.

In the past couple of years, AHS has had to respond to the huge increase in demand for disability services due to the arrival of men, women and children fleeing the deadly conflict in Syria. Around 1.4 million Syrians are living in Jordan, increasing the population by nearly 20% . Many Syrians have lost limbs or suffered other injuries as a result of conflict, leading to very high rates of disability. An estimated 30% arriving in Jordan have some form of disability [Jordan Response Plan for the Syria Crisis 2016-2018, p113], compared to around 13% of Jordanians and a global average of 15%. Annie explains that AHS have had to put all development activities on hold, so they can extend their existing services to those arriving from conflict zones.

In addition to devastating physical injuries, many people arriving from Syria are deeply traumatised by their experiences. Annie remembers one child in particular. Basil arrived in Jordan from Syria having lost both his upper and lower limbs in the conflict. He had seen his father and brother killed before his eyes. When he was first referred to AHS, aged 8, Basil was traumatised, his behaviour aggressive. He joined AHS’ Jordan Centre for Training and Inclusion , was fitted with prosthetic legs and received intensive rehab services including education, occupational therapy , physiotherapy and psychological support. Basil will live with the scars of conflict throughout his life. But after a year of support, he had come a long way from the little boy who couldn’t bear to look at himself in the mirror and performed in the centre’s play as a basketball player.

AHS provides support and rehabilitation to girls and boys  with physical Team customise wheelchair for young boydisabilities, providing adapted mobility aids , prosthetic limbs. One of  two mobile workshops, which provide wheelchairs, prosthetic limbs and other assistive devices, now serves Azraq refugee camp, home to over 35,000 refugees. The other serves the rest of Jordan. Each workshop is staffed by a physiotherapist, an occupational therapist, two technicians and a social counsellor . Each person is assessed, then in the workshop their wheelchair, prosthetic or orthotic is produced to the correct measurements, with all necessary supports to meet the individual’s needs. The mobile workshop then returns to fit the child with their new equipment, which can also include medical beds, support cushions etc.

Changing attitudes

Annie told us how attitudes towards disability generally have become more positive in Jordan over the last few years, with more people with disabilities in prominent positions, such as the Senate, providing role models. 15% of AHS’s own staff are people with disabilities.

But in spite of this, there are still challenges. For example, school principals are often reluctant to accept children with disabilities in their schools. They are fearful of being responsible for children with additional needs and worry that they don’t know how to deal with them. “So we train school principals, and also teachers, peers and empowering the children themselves so that when they go to school, they have a good experience and do not drop out”, explains Annie. This focus on good quality, holistic intervention is a key part of AHS’s approach.

As with so many aspects of life in Jordan, the arrival of so many Syrian refugees has also put additional pressure on schools. “Previously there were 40 students in a class, but now there are 65 and they learn in shifts, one in the morning, one in the afternoon”.

Long term partnership

With over 20 years of partnership, CBM has worked with AHS through decadesAnnie Medzhagonpian Abu Hanna (right) with CBM UK Chief Executive Kirsty Smith of change. Annie explains how CBM’s approach of working through local partners like AHS enables them to invest in developing local staff and expertise and building strong partnerships with the Government and other agencies. The need for such strong coordination has been highlighted by the Syrian crisis, with multiple international organisations working in Jordan to support refugees.

Over the last year, we’ve all been moved by the plight of those who’ve been forced to flee Syria. With so much attention focussing on those seeking refuge in Europe, it’s easy for us to forget the huge impact on countries like Jordan. So I valued the opportunity to learn about how AHS is responding to the challenges posed by the Syrian conflict, and about the vital services they provide. For children like Basil, and for countless others living with disabilities, whether Syrian or Jordanian, AHS will be a vital source of healing, support and hope long into the future.

Rosi Jack is Communications Manager at CBM UK.

Main image:  AHS  team measure a child for a mobility device in Azraq refugee camp; AHS has expanded its services to Syrian refugees in the camp with CBM support. 

Second image: Annie Medzhagonpian Abu Hanna (right) with CBM UK Chief Executive Kirsty Smith


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