Equipping a Nation to Serve All Children
By Eden Grace
Approximately five percent of all children in the world, according to the World Health Organization, have a moderate-to-severe disability. In some countries, these children can expect to receive excellent care and education allowing them to reach their highest potential. In Palestine, however, there are no government-funded educational services for children with disabilities. The public schools will not accommodate them. There is an unfortunately high rate of institutionalization for these precious children. In all of Palestine, there is only one school that accepts these children: Ramallah Friends School. Friends don’t just “accept” them; everyone on the campus loves, cherishes and sees each child as important and fully-integrated members of the school community. The Friends School sees the face of God in these special children.
This approach is utterly innovative in the Palestinian context. The special needs program at RFS began about 16 years ago when a particularly-assertive parent and an unusually visionary teacher persisted in advocating for the importance of mainstreaming children with disabilities. Today, the school is able to serve two or three students with severe disabilities at every grade level. These students are fully integrated into the educational and social life of their peers, while also receiving intensive one-on-one support from trained learning specialists. In overcoming social stigma against people with disabilities, the school has become a model for how differentiated teaching in a diverse student body leads to better outcomes for all children.
But two or three students per grade — only about 40 students across the whole school — is just the tip of the iceberg compared to the number of Palestinian children with moderate-to-severe disabilities. Parents, school administrators and government officials are pleading for help. In response to this huge unmet need, Ramallah Friends School is preparing to become a training center in full-inclusion special education, teaching and mentoring those who are attempting to replicate RFS’s program in other schools. This idea is still in the planning stages, with many questions yet to be answered, but already the level of excitement is rising. RFS is poised to equip the entire Palestinian educational system to serve children with disabilities, and by extension all children, as precious sons and daughters of the living God.