Family cooks up answer to refugee camp neglect

July 25, 2015 2:47 am

 

Rua
Abuoda with her brother, Mohammed, who has cerebral palsy and cannot
get proper health care in their refugee camp. Photo / Supplied

Rua Abuoda is in the kitchen chopping vegetables for the iftar her
family are about to host. Her brother Mohammed wakes up after his second
seizure of the day, pulls himself down off the bed on to the tiled
floor, and sits in the doorway watching his sister.
The
15-year-old has cerebral palsy, and his epilepsy has progressively
become worse. He cannot walk or talk and his muscles are tightly
clenched, his hands forming fists and his feet permanently facing
outward.
The Abuoda family live in Aida, a Palestinian refugee
camp in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where provision for disabled
children is severely lacking. They have no access to additional funding
from a welfare system or from UNRWA, the United Nations refugee agency
for Palestinians.
Five years ago, Mohammed’s mother, Islam,
decided to try to improve the situation. With the help of a foreign
volunteer in the camp, she brought together other mothers of children
with disabilities to run traditional Palestinian cooking classes, which
visitors to Aida can pay to take.

With the money raised through their project, called Noor Weg,
the mothers have built a community kitchen and space for the children
and families, and are also able to pay the school fees of some of the
children.
This year they hosted Iftar dinners during Ramadan to raise additional income.
“The project has really changed the people [the families of disabled children],” said Islam at the family home.
“Before,
the people were shy and they didn’t like to visit each other. Now
people come to visit me and tell me their story about their children
with disabilities,”
There are 13 families with a total of 30
children with disabilities. Thirteen women run the cooking classes, but
only Islam has hosted iftars.
The women behind Noor Weg faced social and cultural challenges in setting up the project.
“Here
the culture has been really bad; they don’t like it when women work and
they didn’t like it when men and women mixed,” said Islam.
“At
first, only women came to take part in the cooking class but after six
months we had a lot of men wanting to register. At first I was afraid
because we have neighbours here, but then after we tried classes with
men and women we saw it was okay.”
Despite the project’s success,
Islam still lacks basic resources to care for Mohammed. She has to lift
him herself as she doesn’t have a hoist. His wheelchair is inadequate
and dangerous as it’s not fitted to him and does not have straps to hold
him in if he has a seizure.
The Aida camp north of Bethlehem is
for families whose parents or grandparents were forced from their homes
in 1948 by Israeli forces in the Nakba.
More than 5000 people
live in the camp, and conditions are still rough although many houses
have been built there. The camp is alongside the Israeli separation wall
built in 2006.
Islam went into labour when she was only six
months pregnant with Mohammed. She could not be treated in a local
hospital and was rushed to the nearby checkpoint in an attempt to get
her to a hospital in occupied East Jerusalem.
She was held for 2 hours at the checkpoint. She was bleeding heavily and nearly gave birth to Mohammed while waiting.
Mohammed was born prematurely, and it is thought he did not receive enough oxygen after his birth.
The
family received little information on Mohammed’s disability until he
was 8 when he fell at school during his first epileptic seizure.
The Abuoda family have struggled to cover the costs associated with their son’s disability.
They
sent him to a nearby school for children with disabilities that cost
$1250 a year but withdrew him again after finding that staff were not
properly trained to cater to his needs.
Islam decided to start the cooking project as a way to supplement her husband Ahmad’s salary as an electrician.
“I
am angry with the Palestinian Authority and with all the associations
because they know many people could be helped but they don’t speak out
and help,” she said.

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