When asked why we should care for special needs children, Costa is quick to reply and quote a verse from Luke chapter 4, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” This sentiment drives home for him the need to defend and advocate for the marginalized. In Lebanon’s society, that includes special needs children. Jesus cared for children, and he went to the people nobody else wanted. That is our model and our guide to how to be the real light in Lebanon.
LSESD’s SKILD Center for Smart Kids with Individual Learning Differences is seeking to be just such a beacon of light for teachers and parents across the country by offering therapy, assessments, resources, training, and support for schools, teachers, and parents. Costa is thankful for the strengths of SKILD as being “very inclusive, helping schools, and providing therapy with the best in the country.”
Special needs education has garnered support from across a spectrum of fields from the Ministry of Education to endorsements from all the major faith-based educational institutions in Lebanon. This inclusivity was highlighted in a video shared at a dinner gathering on April 22nd to celebrate the National Day and honor those that are striving to spread an inclusive culture.
One such guest was Dr. Carolyn Bishop, President of the Consortium for Global Education (CGE). The Consortium for Global Educators is a partnership between forty two private universities whose mission is to find places in the world where they can make an impact in education and faith values intertwined. As a key partner since before the SKILD Center was even launched, she and Dr. Tonia Crane, a specialist in Applied Behavioral Analysis, came to be on hand as we design a national level screening of elementary students in public schools.
During her early trips here, Bishop saw that recognition of special needs in students didn’t seem accepted at the national level. She helped advocated for SKILD’s vision and mission by sending faculty to provide workshops on leadership, best practices, curriculum, methodology, and development of education. With shared care and concern for children, CGE can encourage educators in Lebanon to be experts and leaders in their professional skills.
She shares, “We want SKILD and all the private and public schools to become specialists, so as they become owners of the concept and programs, then it can grow much faster. We want to continue our support and see SKILD as a pilot model for other Arab nations. Lebanon is a great partner. We see their commitment to quality, the quality of education meeting the criteria of education standards.”
The final event to spread awareness about the National Day and special needs was a half-day presentation and seminar open to anyone interested in the issue of special needs in Lebanon. In partnership with the British Council two specialists came and presented workshops on the following topics, “The effects of trauma, loss, and anxiety on learning and behavior,” and “understanding and working with specific learning difficulties.” The speakers were keen to point out that having a special need is not connected with intelligence and does not need to be a barrier to success.
There are an estimated 65,000 to 95,000 children in Lebanon with special needs. SKILD, along with our partners, continue to work on developing the national screening which will provide tangible data in this range and enable us to understand and address the diversity of special needs in Lebanon.
One thing that’s already helping is the new Directory of Inclusive Schools in Lebanon, which debuted at the dinner gathering and was distributed to all at the final seminar. The free directory lists 70 schools –public and private- that have inclusive programs, as well as NGOs serving the special needs community. With still many challenges ahead, Dr. Costa sees the new directory as a huge milestone for an inclusive culture of special needs in Lebanon, “The directory creates hope.”
Rebecca Boutros, LSESD Program Officer
May 15th, 2014
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