What I’ve learned is that we can’t wait around for someone else to help us, that’s not living, we have to develop ourselves,” says Islam Jameel.
Islam, 35 grew up in Aida camp during the first intifada. Shortly after her marriage, Israeli forces arrested her husband Ahmed. He was kept in prison for four years until he was released for medical treatment. “For six months I didn’t hear any news about him, I didn’t even know where he was held.”
After three years of intensive care Ahmed started to recover. In addition to this hardship, during the seventh month of Islam’s second pregnancy her infant suffered from lack of oxygen to his vital organs resulting in a severe form of cerebral palsy. Mohammad, now 13, requires constant assistance in even basic activities such as eating or walking. “He requires care 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” He is one of six children, ranging in age from 14 to 5 years of age, all the rest of whom attend UNRWA schools.
Ahmad is unemployed and the family’s main source of income remains the UNRWA Social Safety Net Program (SSNP). SSNP provides basic food and cash assistance to families considered to be abject poor. In addition to receiving SSNP assistance, Islam has taken action to change the circumstances of her family through the founding from the Noor Women Empowerment Group.
In 2010 Islam, along with 13 mothers of children with disabilities started a project called Noor, meaning ‘light’ in Arabic. The project provides mothers of disabled children with an income. The idea is simple; Islam, along with other mothers of disabled children from Aida camp, invite visitors to their homes to learn to cook traditional Palestinian foods. In turn, visitors pay a modest price for the cooking lesson and meal. Noor also offers cookbooks printed by the women for purchase.
With funds from their project, Noor has been able to purchase crutches and wheelchairs for individual children. Noor has also had a profound social effect in the community, “Before, people were scared to take their disabled child out in public, it was seen as taboo,” Islam explains, “but little by little people are becoming more comfortable with the idea that a disability is not a shame on the child or family.”
Islam estimates that there are approximately 50 disabled children in Aida camp. Unfortunately the camp offers no services to these children. In the past UNRWA provided physiotherapy for disabled children and adults, however these services have been limited due to budgetary constraints.
Islam is now Noor’s project coordinator and her home serves as the primary location for the cooking classes. She counts her involvement in the project among her greatest achievements and is working to expand the project. The additional income from the projects expansion, she hopes to pay for her children’s continuing education and expand Noor to feature its own disability rehabilitation centre.
The most important contribution to herself and her community has been the resulting friendship and vital support system that Noor provides to families of children with disabilities. By breaking boundaries and providing mothers a space for emotional support Noor, has grown to become an essential part of the lives of the families in Aida camp.