“I spent my childhood confined to bed, ill and depressed. When people visited us, I felt shy to meet them. I was unable to walk until 1st grade. My mum used to carry me to school,” says Gharam Ghazi, a 33 year-old woman suffering from congenital hip dysplasia and dwarfism. In 2011, she was displaced to Dera’a by the conflict in Syria. This brought her into contact with Fatima Ali, a vivacious social worker at the UNRWA Community Based Centre in Dera’a. “My life has completely changed since I met her,” says Gharam.
“Before, I always felt shy and kept my head down. I was bashful to walk in public,” she explains. “But as Fatima coached me, and my confidence grew.” Gharam attended trainings about the inclusion of persons with disabilities, as well as recreational sessions organized by UNRWA. The Agency also helped her find a stable job. Last year, in 2017, Fatima told Gharam that the Ministry of Education was looking to hire people with disabilities. Gharam seemed like a perfect candidate, but there was one problem: the job required applicants to have completed their 9th grade education. Gharam had dropped out of school after the 8th grade. Fatima intervened on her behalf to lower the requirements and helped Gharam with the application process. “I got the position and am now a messenger!” Gharam says with a big smile. “This has given me the feeling of independence. I feel stronger and more comfortable in my own skin. My colleagues chat with me and I am always laughing with them. It’s like I am a new person!”
“People with all types of disabilities can fulfill their dreams,” says Fatima Ali, 57. Fatima is the social worker who helped Gharam get her job. For some, that dream is gainful employment. For others, it is becoming a musician.
Khadija Tabasha, a 40 year-old Palestine refugee from Dera’a camp was born blind. She still remembers the first time she attended an UNRWA activity, back in 1992. “We went on a trip to Muzeirib, a village in the south of Syria,” she says, a smile spreading across her face. She has never let her disability get in the way of her achievements, completing both a degree in Arabic literature, recording her lectures on a tape recorder, and enrolling in a second bachelor’s degree to study Sharia law. She had to suspend her studies for a few years due to conflict in Syria, but has now re-enrolled and hopes to finish this year. She also works as a clerk.
Khadija has always loved music, but it was encouragement from Fatima Ali that got her up onto a stage for the first time, in 2015. “I love Iraqi songs – they are sad, and suit my voice and sound,” Khadija says. “Every person has moments of sadness and happiness in their life,” she says. On December 3, she will perform at the celebration ceremony for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities at the Cultural Centre in Dera’a, reciting a poem and singing a song about how she will not give in to depression. “I am more determined than others; I rise above my disability,” she says proudly.
The Government of Japan is a sponsor of UNRWA, and helps to support these activities for persons with disabilities. Fatima is not the only UNRWA social worker making a mark on the lives of Palestine refugees with disabilities in Syria. Mo’tassem Saqer Saleh is a 19 year-old Palestine refugee from Khan Dunoun camp. He was born with multiple disabilities, which did not hold him back from completing his UNRWA education to a 9th grade level. Later, when he entered a government school to continue his studies, he was bullied. “I dropped out in 12th grade,” he says. “My family didn’t have money for private tuition, and I feared that my dreams of continuing my studies were dashed.” However, a visit from an UNRWA social worker changed his fortunes. She convinced a language institute to enroll Mo’tassem in a preparatory course for the 12th grade national exam, free of charge. “It was amazing. I made sure to study hard, and I obtained a mark of 80 per cent” Mo’tassem says, beaming. These marks allowed him to enroll at the UNRWA Damascus Training Centre to study Information Technology. He started last September and is thoroughly enjoying his studies. "My ultimate goal after I complete my studies is to find a job,” Mo’tassem says.