Some 38,000 people with disabilities currently live in the impoverished and crowded Gaza Strip, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
Since 2006, the Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli economic blockade that has restricted the entry and exit of people and goods from Gaza. This has had a large impact on the flow of medicine, medical supplies and other essential goods into the territory. All these factors have placed a huge burden on Gaza’s most vulnerable, including children with disabilities and learning difficulties.
There are no precise figures for the number of children living with Down syndrome or autism in Gaza, but what is certain is that the lack of resources available to them has exacerbated their already challenging situations and those of their families.
RLS was established in 1992 by a group of Gazan women whose children had been affected by Down syndrome. The organisation’s aim is to provide health, education and support to children living with Down syndrome and autism through a series of comprehensive programmes that will see them through from birth to age 18.
A team of health professionals and social workers offers support to children and their families including education, extra-curricular activities, health care, physiotherapy, speech therapy and psychological support. RLS runs a nursery and school that has received 400 children with Down syndrome and 100 children with autism. Its early intervention programme, which entails screening and referrals, has provided services to 130 boys and girls and their families.
A programme designed for 14 to 17-year-olds prepares children for an independent life post-graduation with a series of pre-vocational and vocational training workshops. Despite the fact that a section of RLS’s main building was destroyed during the last war in 2014, the organisation has continued to provide essential services to its beneficiaries.
Photos: Shareef Sarhan/Stars Foundation