Transcending the challenges of Down Syndrome

March 21, 2021

Buthayna is 25 years old and a student at An Nahda Centre for Special Needs. ©UNDP / PAPP

Buthayna is 25 years old and lives with her sister, mother and two nieces in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “I am a student at An Nahda Centre for Special Needs. “I love coming here to see my classmates and teacher. Ms Sahar teaches us how to sew, write and do math. I enjoy all classes, but I like the embroidery class the most”.

Buthayna has been going to An Nahda rehabilitation centre since 2011. Her daily routine is set; “We start with classes once our teacher arrives. It is usually embroidery first, before having our lunch. We have other classes and then we go for a walk before heading back home,” Buthayna explains.

Buthayna has Down Syndrome. Her mother enrolled her at the centre to build her confidence and improve her social skills. Assessments were carried out by a specialized team consisting of an audiologist, a speech therapist, an occupational therapist, and a special education teacher. A plan was then formulated based on her needs.

Buthayna started with small daily tasks then her teacher began introducing pre-vocational training in her daily routine. Buthayna was first presented with jewellery making, where she would make bracelets and necklaces out of beads and strings, before switching to sewing and embroidery.

“I love embroidery because it is fun. I can do it in the centre and practice at home. First, I used to sew with large needles and threads, but not anymore. I work on bigger pieces now, which takes more time to complete but are more fun,” Buthayna explains.

An Nahda Women’s Association Rehabilitation Centre was established in 1925 in Ramallah to support people with special needs and their families through cultural, educational and rehabilitation programmes. The centre also provides transportation within the city of Ramallah to ensure students’ continuity in the centre and offers its services to students in other cities. The centre currently serves students from Ramallah, East Jerusalem, Tullkarem and Nablus.   

With funding from the Government of Germany, through its Development Bank (KfW), UNDP was able to rehabilitate the centre’s 1200 m2 basement and ground floor during phase seven of the Employment Generation Programme (EGP) in 2011, and most recently in 2020 through the construction of an additional floor to the Educational and Vocational Rehabilitation Centre, particularly with the increase in the enrolment rate and inability of the centre to accommodate more students who are not enrolled in private or governmental schools. Over 150 children with disabilities will benefit from the intervention, in addition to the 1,438 workdays that have been generated.   

The support provided through the EGP programme will facilitate Buthayna and her fellow students’ participation in mainstream society, fulfil their potential and improve their quality of life. The centre is not only teaching them a skill set but is also offering them employment. The centre employs women from disadvantaged backgrounds to do the finishing works for the items produced by the students and sell them in public bazaars or events. This approach is not only generating income for the women and students but is also helping the association sustain its activities.

“When I am done with a piece, my teacher would take it to one of the nice women to turn it into an item of use, like a wallet or a keychain. I love going to bazaars, because I get to meet new people and hear what they have to say about my work. I went to many bazaars before with my teacher, and I helped sell my work,” said Buthayna.

Buthayna is not only known for her embroidery, but also for her leadership skills. She loves to assist her classmates and to extend a helping hand. “I always wake up at 06:30 in the morning, get dressed and wait for the centre’s bus to pick me up at 07:04. The first thing I do when I arrive is sanitize the tables, gather my classmates and start working on the pieces while we wait for our teachers,” said Buthayna.

“When Buthayna first joined the centre, she shied away from people. She did not always follow the rules, sometimes making it difficult for us to understand her,” Buthayna’s teacher Sahar explains. “Now Buthayna is a successful young woman who is fully capable, from preparing her meals to getting dressed, to manage her daily activities. She now knows how to express her emotions and communicate effectively; she is more confident and is also a great assistant when it comes to helping out with other students”.

Since 2002, the Government of Germany through the German Development Bank, KfW, has been partnering with UNDP to meet the priority development needs of the most vulnerable in Palestinian communities. To date, eleven phases of the programme were generously financed with approximately EUR 101.9 million, in support of the Palestinian people through UNDP, creating over 1.2 million workdays and generating 2,275 permanent jobs.