Five years ago, Star Mountain Rehabilitation Center in Palestine, an undertaking of the worldwide Moravian Church under the European Province, identified a need for speech therapy services in addition to its work helping mentally challenged children near Ramallah on the West Bank. Today, those services are available and thriving thanks to their connections to Moravians in the U.S. and Canada. Ghada Naser, director of Star Mountain, shares the story of how this much needed outreach came to be.
It all began on June 13, 2011 when I wrote a letter to our friend in the U.S., Mr. Bill Ray of North Carolina, asking him to help us in supporting a speech therapy program at Star Mountain. I wrote:
“I was stopped by a mother of a 3-year-old girl with severe intellectual disability who is enrolled at our Kindergarten. She is so frustrated to see her child in need of specialized services like speech therapy and occupational therapy and that she is not able to get it in a professional way in the country. At Star Mountain we offer physiotherapy, but do not have any speech therapist or occupational therapist due to lack of funds. Again and again, Alia, the mother I mention above, and many other parents face me with this question and need. I feel their frustration and hurt feelings. I try to look for options and promise them to look for possibilities.”
Only one week later I received a positive answer from Mr. Steve Green saying “I am very interested in helping with this project.” Within a few months, the Annie B. Mission was established to support this very important need.
The Star Mountain team and parents were thrilled to get this news so quickly, with such a positive spirit, and with a great message of love, perseverance and hope in memory of Mr. Green’s late wife, Annie B. That was the moment when the quest for a speech therapist began.
A difficult search
As eager as we were to find a speech therapist quickly, we were confronted with the lack of speech therapists in Palestine; those that were available were not willing or experienced enough to work with people who had intellectual disability. After at least two failed attempts, and more than 13 interviews with applicants, at the beginning of 2013 we finally found the right person who had a great heart, willingness and professional experience to work with our special students. Ms. Ilham An-Najjar, a young woman in her mid-30s, was finally hired as a part-time speech therapist at Star Mountain.
Having more than 82 students at the Center who in one way or another need speech therapy, Ms. Ilham had to make a short list of students most in need, filling in her program as a part-timer. Over the years the number of children benefitting from the speech therapy service reached 20 boys and girls between 2- and 8-years-old. The earlier the children get speech therapy the better their chances in acquiring language skills. This is indeed what we have witnessed with several children like Omar.
Omar is a 13-year-old boy with moderate intellectual disability and has speech delay. He lives in a family of six members including his parents and siblings. Five years ago, when he was 8 years old and the speech therapy program began at Star Mountain, Omar was unable to talk; all he said were unclear sounds that barely anyone understood.
Now, Omar speaks almost everything, expresses himself fully, with minor speech difficulties. Most people understand what he says. He managed to develop his expressive and comprehensive skills with approximately 80 percent speech clarity. He became more interactive with his classmates, teachers, relatives and friends. He is more accepted within his family, is strengthened to share his feelings, concerns, wishes and mostly very much empowered to say “no” when he doesn’t agree to something.
From individuals to groups
Over the past several years, the speech therapy service developed from being an individual one-to-one service provided to the children, to becoming a multi-way service that includes group therapy in the children’s classroom along with involving the mothers of the children to take part in the sessions.
The aim of having group sessions and involving the mothers is to convey speech therapy techniques both to the teacher in class and to a family member, so as to continue working with the children in the different settings: inside the classroom and at home. We strive to have a complementary center/home rehabilitation process in all aspects. The teachers in class receive the individual plan for each child benefiting from the speech therapy service and build on it in class. The parents receive clear daily homework sheets or exercises that they are requested to do with their children at home.
Further, in 2016, we added a new component to the speech therapy program at Star Mountain. We are coordinating with the Audiology and Speech Therapy Department at Birzeit University who will send four speech-therapy fourth-year BA students per semester to Star Mountain, to train in offering speech therapy to our students. This is a win-win situation for the students who fulfill their community training university requisite and for us in providing more speech therapy services for our students who have not been able to benefit from our services due to lack of human resources. With this new addition, the speech therapy program at Star Mountain is also contributing in the empowerment of local Palestinian human resources in the field of speech therapy, with a focus on therapy for children with intellectual disability, a very rare and much needed field of work.
At this point, and in commemoration of our five-year partnership with the Annie B. Mission and the Board of World Mission, I would like to convey my gratefulness for the continued support and dedication. We look forward to more future successes of our children and continued cooperation.
Shukran—Thank you for your support and love—We highly appreciate it. n
Ghada Naser is Director of Star Mountain Rehabilitation Center. Star Mountain is an undertaking of the World Wide Moravian Church in Palestine, under the European Province.