An invitation to visit the Sheikha Fatima Rehabilitation Centre
A little background: The late Sheikh Zayed was the founder and first
President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). His widow, Sheikha Fatima
Bint Mubarak, is a shining humanitarian, sharing her resources and
healing vision with the multitudes. Known as the Mother of the UAE,
shes spearheaded many projects concerning womens rights,
childrens health and disabilities. Her commitment led to the
recent opening of the largest rehabilitation center for children with
disabilities in Beit Ummar, an Arab town located eleven kilometers
northwest of Hebron. Her office contacted us to see if we would be interested in visiting and here is that story.
To get there, we first flew to Tel Aviv and asked that our passports
not be stamped as there is such conflict going on in adjacent parts
of the world that evidence that youve traveled to one country,
might get you in trouble when you try to enter the next. Apparently
so many passengers make the same request of the clerk behind the glass
window in customs, that she matter-of-factly informs us that they
no longer stamp passports.
The moment takes me back to my childhood when we had World Day at
my elementary school. As it approached, we kids got so excited.We
made our own passports with our little photos inside, and got to visit
different countrieswith their flags, food and flavorsat
booths inside the school gym. We represented our familys country
of origin, went around and learned a bit about our classmates
as well. Getting my passport stamped and visa for entry from all the
countries stimulated my sense of adventure. But it can be disappointing
when you travel a distance, eager to meet the people, and find that
nations are at such odds. I didn't allow myself to acknowledge how
I felt about this, so I made a few jokes with my colleague and let
the moment pass.
Upon our arrival, we met with two fellow journalists: an English man
from Scotland and an American woman from Oregon; as well as our lovely
bride-to-be hostess, who spoke Arabic and like us, was new to the
region. Our group got into a van and headed towards our destination,
noticing the rugged beauty of the landscape.
We had to stop at what would be the first of a series of checkpoints,
and after a long drive we finally pulled up to the Intercontinental
Jacir Palace in Bethlehem, a sight for our sore, 20-hour traveling
eyes. They were graciously putting us up at the best hotel in little
ol Bethlehem. It turned out that besides our rooms, this palace
had no central heating. As far as my poor blood circulation was concerned,
this was roughing it. Imagining anyone having to sleep outdoors in
this temperature made it hard to swallow my warm saliva that night.
The following morning we all met in the cold lobby and journeyed towards
Beit Ummar. Occupied Palestinian territories, political complications
and a sad reality for the inhabitants of the region.There were so
many walls: walls separating land, walls separating peoplepatrolled
by teenage guards carrying what looked like toy machine guns. Clearly
the domino effect of war is harshest on its youngest residents.
Finally, we headed towards the Sheikha Fatima Rehabilitation Centre,
driving through one of the most picturesque hills and valleys, crested
with fresh snow, owing to unprecedented cold weather. The roads grew
tighter, bumpier and closer to the edge. We arrived at the center
and were greeted by quite a number of people. Among them were Hana
Qaimary, a Ministry of Social Affairs consultant, who was our guide
through the center. She had a pleasant face with dark features and
a sense of conviction when she spoke. Ironically we had crossed paths
with her some months back in New York City at the United Nations during
the Convention of the Right of Persons with Disabilities.
Our group gathered in a room and it seemed like everyone had a camera
or phone with a camera on hand. After the representatives of the center
introduced themselves, Qaimary said, because we dont have
so much time, maybe its good to give you a brief summary about
the center. She also wanted to know more about us, and what
we hoped to learn during our visit so she would know what to concentrate
on during our tour.
I tensed up a bit, performing a prepared aria on stage and pulling
questions out of a magical hat are two different animals. The English
man brought up good points, the Oregon gal was poised. Finally, it
was my turn, and thankfully a question popped into my head at the
last possible moment: What happens to the 15 to 35-year-old
male and females when they graduate and they have to go out into the
Our goal is not just to give them a vocation that they like
and then we leave them alone, Qaimary replied. No, no.
Our policy is to continue, even after they graduate. She said
they keep their graduates in the loop, checking in to see if theyre
encountering any difficulties, and trying to help them resolve them.
So our aim is not just to learn the vocation here and then thats
it, she went on. No. We want to make sure they are living
independently. This is our goal. This is the empowerment we want.
Instead of sending graduating students off with a handshake and a
certificate, the center sometimes underwrites their fledgling businesses
with small loans as a way to make sure they have work, while addressing
the regions high rate of unemployment.
Our group went further into the center and learned more about the
daily activities. As the day progressed, we got to see how they worked
with students, families and the community at large. They had established
a number of workshops, including sewing, computers, electronics, cosmetology
Qaimary is a passionate advocate for inclusion throughout the region.
She sought to help us understand what the vocational center has meant
to everyone, including those with disabilities and those without.
Of the 85 students, 65 have a disability and 20 do not.
Since it was the holidays, only a couple of teachers and a handful
of students were able to make it out on the day of our visit. One
of the students was a shy young boy learning carpentry. He was among
the 20. I asked him about his experience working with classmates who
have disabilities. He simply replied that people with disabilities
tend to be more positive, but other than that he knew of no difference
between him and the other students. It was a feel good moment.
Qaimary said that she had a surprise in store for us: She had arranged
for us to visit one of the centers graduates whod opened
a new cell phone repair store. The steepness of the road leading up
to Ahmad Ali Abu Al Maousss shop atop a cozy hillside village
was concerning. He admitted that he had his own transportation issues.
He gets about in a wheelchair after having sustained spinal cord injuries
following a fall off his uncles roof. Self-sufficient, he drives
himself to work, with his brother as a part of his support system.
The shop had all sorts of parts and gizmos for cell phones, with a
few cigarette boxes and lighters for, Im guessing, his regular
customers. Everything was neatly organized and custom suited to the
shopkeepers needs, with a glass counter up front for transactions,
and room towards the back for Ahmad to do the repairs. We chatted
and learned a bit about his life as loudspeakers from nearby mosques
delivered adhan (the call to prayer), as they do five times a day.
Our conversation with the shop owner drew a small, curious crowd,
as Ahmad spoke of his gratitude for the financial support of his father,
and for the tools the center had given him.
The people involved in building the center who persevered through
over seven years of construction delays and political red tape, should
by Lia Martirosyan
You can read
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