The reality of war is less about the glory of the cause and more about trying to maintain a normal life around the privations of life on an active front.
In divided Daraa province, where rural areas are largely rebel-held and the cities and towns along the M5 highway are under regime control, government largely does not function. For parents with special-needs children, that means few, if any, options for assistance and rehabilitation.
In one corner of rebel-held southeast Daraa, a husband, formerly a teacher of deaf children and his wife, a graduate of a social-services institute, last week opened the first treatment center for children along with hearing and speech impairments.
“The center is in need of everything, even chairs and tables,” Ahmad al-Homsi, founder of the Center for Special Education tells Syria Direct from Maraba, a town 30km southeast of Daraa city.
Before the center opened with the monetary and logistical support of the town’s local council, al-Homsi offered free therapy sessions out of his own home in Maraba.
Without hearing monitors, hearing aids or even headphones, the center’s team provides basic speech and hearing therapy to 15 children between the ages of five and 12 who regularly attend the sessions as well as the other 20 kids who so far have visited the center, says al-Homsi.
The training may be basic, but for at least one mother of a hearing-impaired child, it is already making a difference. “The center’s opening was the best news that I’ve received in five years,” Umm Mahmoud, whose 10-year-old son has cochlear implants, tells Syria Direct’s Bassam al-Dairi.
Q: What does your child suffer from? When did he start having problems?
My son first exhibited issues with speech and listening when he was a little over two years old. A year later, we went through the procedure of installing a cochlear implant for him, which cost nearly SP1.8 million (≈ $8,190).
Before the war broke out, he was receiving specialized instruction, but this only went on for six months because it was expensive for us to get to Damascus. We looked for options in Daraa to complete his treatment. Unfortunately, the revolution began here and we were no longer able to go because of the regime checkpoints. My child is now in the third grade and his speech is affected because he was not able to complete his full rehabilitation period.
Opening day at the Center for Special Education. Photo courtesy of Abd al-Munim Falih al-Khalil.
Q: What has the new special education center for children with disabilities in Maraba provided you and your son?
The center’s opening was the best news that I’ve received in five years even though I know that the center does not have sufficient equipment and that it is just a simple building. Enrollment at the center is free, and for those have made it as such, God will reward you. I bring my child there every day.
Q: What challenges do you currently face in getting treatment for your child?
For us, the toughest challenge is securing batteries for my son’s hearing aids. For the past two months we have not been able to get batteries, which we were previously buying in Damascus. Today, the availability is limited and virtually non-existent.
The price of a pack of batteries was SP2,500 (≈ $11), which would last for a month. Today, they go for SP20,000 (≈ $91), and they aren’t even available. So we bought a pack of batteries from Lebanon for SP40,000 (≈ $182).
Transportation is also among the problems that we face. Many children from the neighboring villages (Bosra, al-Sahoah, etc.) are unable to continuously attend the therapy sessions at the center because of issues with transportation, not to mention the bad financial situation that many are in.
In addition to the lack of funding for the center, there are certain cases that the center is unable to help. My nephew wears two hearing aids and is now in need of a cochlear implant operation, but there is no financial possibility of that happening. The operation now costs nearly SP10 million (≈ $45,480), whereas previously it cost SP1.8 million (≈ $8,190).