By Sarah Jennings and Daniella Daou
Typically a withdrawn young man, Andrew was dancing and laughing. His parents were shocked. Their son doesn’t often get to see people, especially after Lebanon’s economic crisis left him without schooling.
Yet for one night, he was the life of the party – the king of the room.
Andrew has Autism Spectrum Disorder, and for a boy who loves routine and order, Lebanon’s economic crisis has dismantled his world. After the uprising in 2019, his dad lost his job, and his mom only has a part time job in the afternoon. This forced Andrew to leave school and his therapy treatments. Not only that, but he stays at home all home and rarely sees people outside his family. When the Smart Kids With Learning Differences (SKILD) volunteers showed up at his door with gifts and cheery smiles, it was a surprise that transformed him from a shy character to one of exuberant joy!
Every year in February, Night to Shine sweeps the world, bringing prom to individuals with special needs. It’s a joyful night to remind them that they are royalty in God’s eyes. With the support of the Tim Tebow Foundation, over 600 global sites hosted more than 100,000 individuals with special needs to illustrate God’s love for them.
One volunteer from the 2021 event reminisced, “Talia is also one of the girls we visited. Talia was born with Down Syndrome and is full of life. She greeted the SKILD team with cheering – instead of us cheering for her first! Although she could not memorize the dance, we put the music for her, and she created her own choreography on the spot. Being with her and her parents was a joy.”
Following a long period of isolation, these special guests received boxes filled with treats, a bag, a mask, and other essentials for their confinement at home. When the SKILD team knocked on the doors, they were eagerly welcomed by young men and women dressed like royalty, who could not wait to show off their dance moves.
This year on February 18 (Postponed from February 11, due to COVID-19), SKILD will be hosting their fourth annual Night to Shine event. Moving through individual booths, each individual will safely experience fun activities like baking cookies, crafting with beads, having their hair dressed, and even a little paparazzi – in the form of a photo booth! The team is taking COVID-19 precautions to ensure small groups and masks, but we are so excited to host a party again. This event only comes once a year and is highly anticipated by dozens of special needs individuals all over Lebanon.
Do you remember what the first community event after lockdown felt like? To see your friends and have a reason to dress up – most of us can remember the exact date. For many of these individuals, it will be the first special event since the pandemic started.
In Lebanon, the already serious nature of the pandemic has been intensified by the economic crisis. Nearly 42,000 children dropped out of school last year alone. 50 percent of households cut spending on education, 15 percent pulled children out of school, and 9 percent sent children to work, the UN found.
Often the first to feel forgotten, special needs individuals need this time to remind them and their parents that they are celebrated and important. We cannot wait to see their wonder and joy when they arrive to this year’s Night to Shine!
Help us remind them they are royalty in God’s eyes and ours!
We welcome volunteers in Beirut to help staff the activity booths. If you’re international and would like to join in on the fun, you can sponsor one individual’s Night to Shine ticket with a gift of $75.