The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) is a local non-profit, non-partisan Lebanese human rights organization in Beirut that was established by the Franco-Lebanese Movement SOLIDA (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily) in 2006. SOLIDA has been active since 1996 in the struggle against arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and the impunity of those perpetrating gross human violations.

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March 9, 2015

The Daily Star - Disabled authors show talents with new book, March 09, 2015

Sarah Weatherbee

Children and adults with physical and intellectual disabilities saw their learning and creative efforts bear fruit Friday at the launch of their new children’s book “Al-Zarafa Moussaba bil Zoukam” (The Giraffe with a Cold).

Family members and support staff at Al Majal Leisure Center for Disabled Children said that the book was a joint effort that helped unleash the authors’ creativity, fostered self-confidence and taught the value of teamwork.

“The idea is for the children to understand that, even though they have some disabilities, they can still do something, they can give something. This book is full of imagination,” said Dr. Antoine al-Chartouni, coordinator and psychopathologist at Al Majal. An author of several children’s books past, Chartouni created the project and edited the contributions.

The book opens to a winter scene. The main character, an affable giraffe, is stuck in bed with a cold. With each turn of the page, a new friend offers advice that helps her heal. Each page has colorful illustrations by Hisham Sleiman.

Several of the contributing authors took a break from book signings to speak to The Daily Star about their input in helping the giraffe fight her cold.

“I added the part about the chef and how to make the soup,” Elie Richa said. “Soup is very important when we have a cold.”

Jihan Naser gave the idea about the giraffe’s umbrella to protect against the weather. “I’m happy to be here today and I like signing the books,” she said.

Al Majal Leisure Center for Disabled Children, part of the Beirut Association for Social Development, is a nonprofit organization that helps people with mental and physical disabilities, including those with Down syndrome and autism.

The center offers recreational and learning activities, including language classes in French and Arabic, as well as social-skills sessions. Attendees range from children aged 5 to adults near 40.

“There are many activities for them, especially during summer,” said Maha Masri, head of the Beirut Association for Social Development.

Parents typically pay between $200 to $300 per month for activity fees, but Masri said Al Majal offers funding assistance for those of limited means.

For families of people with intellectual disabilities and physical handicaps, Lebanon can be a frustrating place to find resources that provide adequate attention to meet their children’s needs, while also building a sense of self-worth through encouragement and individualized attention.

As well as helping disabled youths and adults learn and develop social skills, Al Majal provides a space to make friends from diverse backgrounds. This is particularly important for disabled adults who, upon leaving the formal school system, may have no place to interact with others and fill their time. For older attendees, Al Majal has a bakery, where they learn to work with one another and sell their confections.

Involvement in Al Majal activities, such as the creation of this newly released book, help brighten attendees’ world and give an outlet for creative expression.

The publisher Asala was excited to include the project in their collection of children’s books. Manager Shereen Kreidieh praised the authors’ hard work on the story. “It’s important for someone to feel like they can accomplish something, and to be recognized for what they have done,” she said.

Yara Ramadan took a short break from book signing to talk about her contribution. She made sure that the ailing giraffe received a hat as protection from frigid temperatures. “If you don’t want to be sick, you should wear a hat in the winter to say warm.”

Her sister, Leen Ramadan, said that Yara’s involvement with Al Majal has helped her grow over the past two years.

Yara previously attended a specialized school and joined Al Majal for summer activities, only to tell her family that she wanted to attend for the entire year.

Leen noticed a profound transformation in her sister after the switch. “She was more accomplished, more happy. She felt her schedule was always busy. We could see her smile more often,” Leen said.

Leen attributes this change to Al Majal’s small class sizes and specialized approach, attuned to each attendee’s needs. She said that throughout Yara’s life, it has been a challenge to find a school that would meet her needs, as students with highly disparate conditions would be lumped together in the same classroom. Consequently, Yara’s hyperactivity and learning difficulties were overlooked.

Getting involved in Al Majal’s bakery and participating in the book project have helped Yara, now 23, meet a diverse set of new friends and productively direct her talents.

“When you focus and try to direct energy into something useful and beneficial, they express themselves better,” Leen said. “Writing [and] storytelling is an amazing way of self-expression for them.”

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