Qalqilya in the West Bank is an economically deprived Palestinian territory known for its political and social unrest. The city, which is surrounded by Israel’s separation wall, is about 50 miles from Ramallah where most Palestinian ministries and government offices are located. With freedom of movement severely restricted, Qaliqilya’s residents living in severe isolation as they are cut off from the rest of the West Bank.
Daily life is a struggle with high levels of poverty, unemployment and difficult access to healthcare. The challenges of living under occupation are multiplied for people living with disabilities, who also face social stigma, discrimination and exclusion.
According to Palestinian government statistics, around 2.7 per cent of the Palestinian population is living with disabilities, including 28,658 with hearing impairment and 14,959 with speech impediments. There are only 12 schools for deaf persons in the Palestinian Territories and they only provide education for children up to the age of 14.
A group of deaf people established Al Amal Society for the Deaf in 1994 with an aim to address the needs of deaf children. The organisation’s main achievement has been the ability to integrate deaf children and children with hearing impairment into mainstream society, providing deaf youth with job opportunities despite a difficult context marked by high unemployment.
The organisation runs a school programme that has seen 65 deaf students enrol, 80 per cent of whom are from Qalqilya. It has set up a vocational rehabilitation centre that provides training for deaf young people in carpentry, fashion design and sewing, metal works, printing, and computer maintenance. It also runs a speech therapy programme and several projects aimed at integrating deaf persons into the community.
In 2015, Al Amal Society for the Deaf directly reached 1,500 children. Al Amal is currently working on plans to set up the first high school for deaf children in Palestine.
Photo: Faiz Abu Rmeleh