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The Only Center of its Kind in Syria Offers a Fresh Start to Children with Learning Disabilities and their Parents

“For the first time in my life I feel that I’m a good mother,” says an Iraqi woman.  “I’m independent; I know how to deal with my child’s problems. I was drowning in the sea of guilt, frustrated and depressed [and] fac[ed] my child’s developmental challenges by shouting and hitting. This center has trained me how to swim.”

For this Iraqi mother of a child suffering from down syndrome, International Medical Corps’ Child and Family Care Center offered a fresh start for her and her family in Syria.  The center is one of the facilities that International Medical Corps refurbished and supports so that children like this one – and their parents – have the support they need.  It’s the only center in Syria that serves Iraqi children with mental, behavioral, and emotional problems free of charge and it the only center that offers parents practical training to deal with their children’s disabilities.

The center currently serves 28 children with developmental challenges and their families, providing psycho-rehabilitative services for the children and training for the parents. The center forms a network station where families can find the support they need and services that their children otherwise might not receive.

One of the center’s main objectives is to provide parents of special-needs children with information that helps them deal with their children’s disabilities and behavioral problems on a day-to-day basis. After six months, parents are trained to calculate their children’s mental age and then formulate an individual plan, including education and behavioral methods.

Parents see the Child and Family Care Center as a safe place where they build a new vision towards their relationship with their children. “Acceptance,”“trust,” and “self image” are some of the most common concerns and the center’s psychologists help families work through such concerns with activities and counseling sessions. International Medical Corps also provides parents with all the educational materials and training they need to work with their children independently at home. Some parents have become more involved with their children’s rehabilitative plans and some have even made a small corner in their homes to train their children with other children.

Results come quickly, with evident improvements in the children’s and parents’ behavior in a short time. The center also provides a safe place where special-needs children and their families are visible, accepted, and not asked for more than what they can do. Since some parents are illiterate, material are written in a simple fashion and explained with pictures.

The parents are so committed that some have adopted the center as a “second home.” They support each other, listen to each other’s worries, and contact each other outside the center. They also expand their support to the children of other parents at the center.

This is true of Mama Suhair, the mother of Mohammad, a child with a mental disability. She was asked to come to the center two days a month, but she chose to come twice a week, helping other children in the facility and assisting in cleaning tasks. As she told one staffer: “Please let me [help for] free. It’s my home and I must help.”

When International Medical Corps staff surprised her with a birthday celebration, she cried in joy, saying it was the first time someone had celebrated her birthday. Mohammad tells her if he ever sees she is sad, he will celebrate her birthday in the center again.  For these families getting a fresh start at the center, there are many reasons to celebrate.