Every Tuesday, a group of students meets behind the closed doors of the library rotunda. In the three years that they have convened in this circular room, they have truly reached out of their ‘circle’: first to Jordanian physicians, then professionals in Hungary, and eventually the world of differently-abled spanning across the kingdom. The process for these far-reaching results was, of course, neither easy nor quick.
“It all started more than three years ago, at a school meeting, when Ms. Rana recounted a story of a girl with cerebral palsy,” recall the earliest members of Kursi wa Kitab. “We were moved by Ms. Rana’s passion and later joined in her efforts to assist in the struggles of cerebral palsy students in Jordan.”
Cerebral palsy, also known as CP, is caused by brain damage usually inflicted at birth, which greatly reduces one’s motor skills: walking, speaking, and even sitting, in more severe cases. “However, rarely does it affect one’s mental ability,” stress the Kursi wa Kitab members. Despite this fact, the CP students in Jordan are denied access to the regular education and are only provided with an inefficient and limited alternative that fails to successfully accommodate their physical challenge.
From the exposure to this inequitable treatment in Jordan sprung the foundation of Kursi wa Kitab: providing the right tools—wheelchairs—and education—books—for CP students in Jordan. In the beginning, Kursi wa Kitab started small. They sold donuts in at school plays, held charity poetry events, sold awareness stickers, and held bake sales at school. These efforts spanned over half a year and produced enough money to buy one wheelchair.
This wheelchair brought unimaginable happiness to Heba, a woman with CP who previously could not afford a wheelchair on her own. Despite Heba’s heartwarming smile, however, Kursi wa Kitab members could not simply rejoice. They began to feel hesitant about their goal. If it took half a year to raise enough money to buy a single wheelchair, how many would they ever be able to donate? Will buying wheelchairs even make a dent in the issue of cerebral palsy in Jordan? It was time for them to redirect their goal, to target the heart of the matter—the inadquate infrastructure for the differently-abled.
Weeks of research pointed them towards an innovative treatment method called conductive education. This globally renowned method was exactly what Jordan needed: a combination of medical and psycho-educational approaches. Conductive education does not merely treat the medical problems of the children, but also focuses on their personality; by learning basic life skills such as sitting, eating, and writing, and being encouraged to push themselves, the children become confident, independent, and ultimately ready to be reintegrated into society.
Confidence, independence, and chance for reintegration into society: these were what the Jordanian children with CP—or any disability for that matter—needed. Immediately, Kursi wa Kitab contacted the Peto Institute in Hungary, where conductive education was first developed in 1945.
Things were uphill from there: writing countless emails, collecting donations, and organizing fundraising and awareness-raising events. The efforts paid off, however, in results neither expected nor thought possible. The Peto Institute accepted an invitation to a conference in Jordan which attracted a group of Jordanian physicians interested in the innovative method. After the conference, the Peto Institute and Kursi wa Kitab engaged in continuous correspondence during which they designed a detailed plan for the establishment of a conductive education center in Jordan.
Eventually, this summer, Kursi wa Kitab carried out a seven-weeks pilot program in collaboration with the Peto Institute. “It was unbelievable. We watched students learning to open her hands for the first time; one came in a wheelchair only to leave on his legs,” recalls Serene Akkawi, one of the founding members.
This is not the end, however. Their successful pilot program only urged them to aim further, to establish a long-term and self-sustaining conductive education center in Jordan. “We are currently working with the Jordanian German University to start a training program in order to produce our own Jordanian conductors,” explains Mehak Sachdeva, another founding member.
Their ultimate aspiration, however, reaches beyond the material and infrastructural change. Through their efforts, Kursi wa Kitab looks beyond changing the definition of the word ‘disabled’ to how the world views the differently-abled, and how the differently-abled view themselves.