Lebanese Woman Opens Home and Heart to Syrians with Disabilities

Arsal hospital worker opens home-based support center in effort to assist those with special needs and change the community's attitudes towards those with disabilities

Following her husband’s death, Aisha al-Hajiri, also known as Om Omar, devoted her life to helping Syria’s disabled refugees around the Lebanese town of Arsal. Although she has little money, Om Omar has converted her two-room house into a center to care for those with disabilities and special needs.

In her 50s, Om Omar works as a cleaner in a hospital for the medical authority in Arsal, and has independently raised three daughters, supporting them through university.

Zaman al-Wasl visited Om Omar in her center, where she registers the names, conditions and phone numbers of those with disabilities in the area. Every day, in the late afternoon, they all gather to drink tea at the center, while Om Omar listens to their concerns and tries to offer support.

Om Omar explained that her goal is to change people’s stereotyped perceptions of the “disabled”, which paints them as weak and helpless. With the help of social specialist Abdul Hafiz Holani, she studies each case and designs a plan to support them to become stronger.

Om Omar has launched a number of training courses for handicrafts and decorating for patients in order to help them find a source of income. She has also organized nursing and literacy courses, and has helped in forming a theater band of people with special needs.

There are currently 298 names registered on Om Omar’s files, with conditions ranging from cerebral palsy, paralysis, deafness and Down’s syndrome, all of which do not receive any support from official agencies or associations inside Lebanon. Om Omar explained that the most painful situation for her is when she sees people who require long-term treatment, but cannot afford to pay for it, like drugs for heart disease and endocrine medications.

Om Omar said that she would appreciate the support of good-natured people to help those with special needs in the community. Her center is a call to all who are able to support others, but have preferred to turn a blind eye to this group of vulnerable people with great potential.

This article was edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.


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