Over 900 join SKILD for Virtual National Day

By Daniella Daou

Continuing the Fight for Inclusion Despite Lockdown

Nine years ago, an inclusive Lebanon was a dream of many parents with children whose special needs denied them access to educational opportunities, social experiences, and economic independence. Hiding your child with special needs was the norm. Whenever you took him or her out meant that you were going to be shamed and ridiculed. The SKILD Center is a dream come true for its founder, Dr. Nabil Costa, also a parent to a child with special needs, and for many educators, specialists, and visionaries. SKILD’s Director, Hiba Al Jamal, and five specialists passed the dream onto a team of fifty others in order to carry out the mission of reflecting God’s unconditional love and seeing every child recognized for his or her potential and valued as an integral part of society.

In a country torn apart by the same denominations that constitute its consociational make up, SKILD was able to become the common denominator that brings educational institutions and leaders from all religious and political backgrounds together to join efforts towards the inclusion of children with special needs. Despite physical distancing, technology came to the rescue as 30 speakers from legislative, executive, and educational backgrounds gathered for an e-conference celebrating the National Day for Students with Learning Differences on April 22nd. “Inclusion in Times of Distancing” provided over 900 attendees with the opportunity to share experiences and give recommendations for distance learning for students with learning differences.

The parents, children, and schools we serve are a great testimony of our progress to date as we see more schools resort to inclusivity, more parents talk about their struggles and share experiences, and more children brought closer to their full potential with specialized intervention. However, the journey is still ongoing until every door opens for children with special needs. Continue reading below for an interview with Dr. Nabil Costa, coordinator of the National Day for Students with Learning Differences to learn more about this year’s celebration.

Reflections on the National Day

An Interview with Nabil Costa

Why was it so important to you to see a National Day for Students with Learning Difficulties introduced in Lebanon?

The SKILD Center and the British Council worked diligently to see a national day for students with learning difficulties in Lebanon come to fruition. This was made possible with the officiation of the Ministry of Education and Higher Education in 2013. Initially, this day was created to raise awareness for the cause of students with special educational needs, serve as a catalyst for systemic reforms at the institutional and governmental levels, and to advocate for the rights of persons with learning difficulties in Lebanon. But more importantly, with the mission to empower the local church and its community we found this to be a great opportunity to pave the way for a welcoming classroom, church, and nation for this underserved student population. Equitable access to a quality education that is suitable for every learner is the kind of educational system that we dream of and one that will unlock these students’ God-given talents!

How was this year’s national day different?

A commitment to the rights and protection of individuals is not meant to be of service only when all the circumstances align well and socio-economic situations permit. On the contrary, the committee for the National Day for Students with Learning Difficulties set out to lead boldly through the crisis. Therefore, on the occasion of the 8th annual conference, an e-Conference addressing “Inclusion in times of Distancing” was held. With over 900 attendees and 30 passionate speakers and contributors, a book was compiled to capture all valuable insights, shared experiences, endorsements, and recommendations.

What do you consider were the greatest highlights of the e-Conference?

Through this work a precedent was created for collaborating successfully, unifying efforts, and gathering expertise in order to reach a common goal that uplifts and gives every student with learning differences the right support for a better present and a brighter future. Because of the wide variety of contributions and special interventions that were presented at the e-Conference, the credibility of this cause has been elevated and its scope widened to reach more than only the current inclusive schools in Lebanon today. For the first time, we even saw a Lebanese inclusive institution of higher education prioritize and contribute to the learning of their students with special educational needs!

What keeps you motivated to continue fighting for an inclusive Lebanon?

The SKILD Center started with a personal initiative almost 10 years ago. For me, fighting for an inclusive Lebanon is a celebration of God’s valuable creation found in every one of our students. We wish to honor Him by supporting and caring for students with learning difficulties as they, along with their peers, form together the future society of our country. We praise Him for every blessing and all progress made!

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