Bringing Hope to Disabled Children in Jordan

June 19, 2014

Disabled Bedouin children like Ahmed are gaining confidence and independence at a physical therapy center in southern Jordan.

There was a determined look in Ahmed´s* big brown eyes. He gripped the handle bars of the tricycle, trying to steady his legs before he sat down.

His mother, Shada*, stood beside him, gently coaxing the youngster through the next series of actions. But Ahmed needed no help. Slowly he reached his right leg across the seat until his foot slipped down into the pedal strap. Balancing himself on the seat, the process of pulling his left foot into the other pedal strap was a bit easier.

Ahmed relaxed and grinned at the visitors from Christian Aid Mission in America. This was his opportunity to show off.

Once his feet found their rhythm, Ahmed gleefully pedaled his red and yellow ”chariot” across the floor of the playroom. He back-pedaled to turn around, then sailed past his captive audience of cheerleaders who responded with clapping.

Newly found freedom

Shada brought her young son to the handicapped children´s center in southern Jordan last year. Crippled since birth, Ahmed was unable to walk without assistance. That lack of mobility posed as much of a handicap for his poor Bedouin family as it did for himself. The child had to be carried wherever he went, and he was of no use to his father, who needed his help tending their flock of sheep and goats.

The day center, one of four receiving help from a Christian Aid-assisted ministry, provided free therapy that Shada hoped would make a life-changing difference for her son. She was especially impressed by the compassion and patience of the staff.

Within months Ahmed showed progress. He moved about with the aid of a walker or cane. Then he made slow steps unassisted. And the tricycle that so delighted him was more than a toy–it was strengthening the muscles in his legs and giving him a sense of freedom for the first time in his life.

‘It´s a shame to them’

The handicapped center provides a loving, comfortable environment for children and their parents.

In Jordan´s Bedouin desert settlements, handicapped children are sometimes sorely neglected by their families. It´s not because parents don´t love their children. They just don´t know how to care for those with special needs, nor do they have the resources for doctor´s visits, medication, or therapy.

For those having children with severe afflictions, the burden turns into more than the family can bear. The ministry leader has seen and heard accounts of some of the abuse.

”The parents may put the child in a separate room in their home and lock them in the room. They may put them outside in the barn to live with the sheep,” he said. ”Sometimes they treat them like animals, worse than animals. They prefer that the child die rather than live in his pitiable condition.”

While most village families do not want any harm to come to their disabled children, the ministry leader said there is a prevailing attitude of shame and guilt that is difficult to change.

”Let´s say a family has five boys and one of them is handicapped. Somebody asks the parents, ‘how many children do you have?’ They would answer ‘four kids.’ It´s a shame to them, like they did something wrong.”

He attributes the actual cause of the birth defects to a variety of issues, ranging from marriage of individuals within the same blood line to women who receive insufficient or improper medical care during their pregnancies.

During the past two years the ministry has assisted hundreds of youngsters who are brought to the centers with a wide assortment of physical and developmental problems. The children range in age from four to their late teens. Some have muscular dystrophy. Others suffer from autism. Still others live in a world of darkness or silence, unable to communicate their thoughts and emotions.

Made in God´s image

Two Christian Aid staff members visited the main handicapped center in May. They saw firsthand how physical therapy–combined with a little love and encouragement–is producing amazing results.

A gentle hug quiets a frightened toddler. Massaged arms and legs give atrophied muscles new strength. Harnesses help a teenager stand upright, a first step in the process of learning how to walk. Victories, whether large or small, build momentum toward greater achievements.

The ministry also provides equipment and mobility aids to children. Wheelchairs, crutches, canes, and specially-fitted shoes are among the most sought after items. Toilet seats and toilets for the handicapped are also popular.

Tricycles and even bicycles are available for youngsters, like Ahmed, who have developed the most physical agility.

All of the devices are donated to the ministry. Two containers full of medical equipment are ready for transport from Europe to Jordan, but the shipment and other related costs amount to $12,000 per container. The ministry is seeking financial support to help cover these expenses.

Orthopedic shoes give added support to help disabled children walk.

The handicapped center has accomplished dramatic changes in more than just the children it serves. By establishing relationships with the parents, too, ministry workers find that Bedouin families are more open to hear the message of God´s love.

”Parents will often talk with the therapists or volunteers and say, ‘Why are you doing all of these good things for our children? We would really like to thank you.’ This gives the workers an opportunity to speak about their faith,” explained the ministry leader.

”We begin to answer their questions and build friendships. I call it slow-cook, not microwave evangelism,” he said.

DVDs and tracts are available for free at the center and provide opportunities for parents to learn more about God´s gift of grace. Ministry workers also bring materials with them when they visit the homes of the families.

Periodically the ministry brings in teams for a weeklong outreach that welcomes children without disabilities as well as those who frequent the handicapped center. The events include singing, games, and lots of fun and laughter.

The unconditional love shown to the children, no matter what their developmental level may be, is what touches the hearts of parents most. Sometimes they are the ones desperate for a little encouragement or a sympathetic ear, said the leader. The outreach is intended to minister to their practical and emotional needs, as well, so they can be the best parents possible to all of their children.

”When you help a handicapped child, you´re really giving a better life to the family, too,” he said.

*name changed