Meeting special needs in Lebanon


Meeting special needs in Lebanon /08.08.06

Losing your home and being forced to flee from aerial bombing is terrifying enough for the physically fit, healthy and able-bodied. But for wheelchair users, and people suffering from chronic conditions like epilepsy, the trauma is multiplied.

How much more of a challenge is it to be displaced from all you know? To be without your medication in an unfamiliar environment?

The current conflict in Lebanon has left at least 80 disabled people stranded, forced to shelter in around 26 different schools in Beirut. Still more are spending their days in parks and parking lots as the relief centres themselves run out of room.

The Lebanese Physically Handicapped Union (LPHU) is a local organisation working to defend the rights of disabled people. As well as funding its long-term programme, Christian Aid has given LPHU an emergency grant for its work with disabled people displaced by the bombing.

‘We are providing support for people who have severe disabilities,’ said Mohammed Ali Loutfy, who is coordinating LPHU’s relief programme. ‘Providing water mattresses for quadriplegics, healthcare services for people with epilepsy, and appropriate food and medicine for disabled people.’

Mostafa is a quadriplegic in one of the school shelters in the Lebanese capital. Without the medication or privacy to treat his bedsores, he has now got an infection.

LPHU has been able to provide Mostafa with hygiene kits, medicines and a water mattress. He will now be taken out of the school and placed with a host family who will care for him.

‘Mostafa was so grateful and we were so happy that we could help him,’ said Mr Loutfy.

There are around fifty disabled people and their families who have already been placed with host families in Beirut – LPHU’s holistic approach to care tries to ensure that relatives can remain together.

Mohammed, an autistic man from a rural village in Lebanon, has suffered discrimination throughout his life and has now lost his home.

Scared and confused, he and his mother have been sleeping in the toilets of a school in Beirut for the past fortnight as this was the only place that was sufficiently quiet for him.

LPHU is working with the Lebanese Association for Autism to get better treatment for Mohammed and help the supervisors of the relief centre to better understand the nature of his condition.

It is also arranging the transfer of Hanadi, a young woman with epilepsy, to a special care centre that can provide her with the medication and facilities she needs.

As well as direct assistance, LPHU is running activities in the shelters to raise awareness of disabilities and prevent people with special needs from being excluded.

It is advising supervisors of relief centres on how to manage without wheelchair ramps or accessible bathrooms and stockpiling medicines and supplies in case the conflict escalates.

Having cared for some of the estimated 75,000 people who suffered long-term disabilities after Lebanon’s protracted civil war, LPHU know all too well that this conflict will create its fair share of severe injuries.

‘Day by day the challenges are increasing because of the [continuing] attacks. Please tell the international community to work hard to stop the disaster in our country. We are expecting big problems after this war,’ said Mr Loutfy. ‘Many more people will be disabled…’

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