By Suzanne Axelsson
This is the story of Kefeh, a brave young woman I know I Palestine, who has dealt with the prejudices of being "othered" due to her albinism. I have asked her to tell her story, because it is important for us as educators to be reminded of how much power we have over the well-being of the children we work with. And also a reminder that we need to take the time to understand what strategies need to be put in place so that a child can thrive, and how to avoid making things harder just because that is always the way it has been done, or from a sense of equality that all children have to have the same resources for it to be fair... this is, in practice, very unfair...
Many people around the world struggle due to how others react and treat them, due to stereotypes limiting how others see them, due to attitudes of keeping the "different" away in a strange way to protect the "normal"...
During my visits to Palestine I have interacted with children with special needs, beautiful interactions, but different from the "expected interactions with children of that age" - educators came up to me and apologised explaining the child was sick, embarrassed and ashamed of the child.
I would like to point out that this is not something that just happens in Palestine.
I have also visited schools in Palestine that strive to be inclusive, and to ensure that these children are valued equally. They have to work hard with the parents to explain and to help them understand, to unpick the stereotypes of the children with special needs...
There are a group of educators in Jenin wanting to set up a course with me so that they can learn more about special needs and how to create more inclusive education possibilities for these children - and also to be a part of changing the attitudes of society about these children... (if you know of anyone, or any way that this can be funded, or supported, then please get in touch with me... email@example.com)
In the years that I have known Kefeh, I have also seen the discrimination she encounters as an adult... I have felt her frustration, that sometimes spills over into anger when she is not afforded the same rights as others. I admire her bravery and her spirit enormously. That no matter how many times others, or the system, have pushed her down, or made her life harder than it should be (intentionally or unintentionally) she has always got up and always searched for joy... not matter how difficult that has been.
So in Kefeh's words...
Being part of a big family is not easy and living under occupation makes it harder and being a girl with disability make it extremely hard to get education here.
I was born to a blessed family with 10 siblings living in small house and a low income. I didn’t get the chance to enter a preschool … my life simply was me and my family …no friends or social interaction and all the social issues that come with such living conditions .
So as all kids there came an age when I was sent to public school
And then my life turned upside down! New people , new place , new processes going on, as anyone else I began to try to make friends to play with during the breaks or to get along with inside the classroom, but for reasons I couldn’t understand back then I always got rejected, girls would avoid me or even make fun of me, I remember once I was talking to group of girls and it ended up me being punished inside the teachers room (they would make you stand in the corner alone as a punishment), don’t know what it was about I was just a kid trying to make friends.
Back to the class room where we spent the whole school day in the same chair, we didn’t go to other rooms or change places.
I was sitting in the first row, the closest point to the board but this didn’t help much, I would see that there is something written on the board but never could read it . (people with albinism have issues with their sight, blindness or partial blindness)
This made it hard to understand everything in the class, I collected informations by listening what was being said instead, and what my family could help with, my teachers didn’t help much even though they knew about my condition since my mother made sure to visit the school every year to tell the them to help me. One of the bad memories I still remember from the first grade is when the teacher asked us to bring a song to participate in the annual party and I did but she took me out of the dance, I still remember the rehearsals the room was too bright and could not see the moves so the teacher took me out of it.
With no friends and lack of access to informations I continued until the fourth grade when a teacher suggested my family to send me to private school for blind people, so at the second semester of the fourth grade they sent me to that school.
That time was so different I felt more comfortable between my classmates as they were all having the same issues as me or even more, I was forced to learn Braille, they didn’t pay attention to scientific subjects, math or others things, I finished fifth grade but my family noticed I'm not getting any better, yes my grades were perfect but the knowledge I was getting was not enough, I could barely write my name in English and all of this made me feel very frustrated. Then the second Intifada began and that made my family decide to bring me back to public schools, so I returned to sixth grade but in the public school this time.
I had to start all over again, learning the English alphabet, math etc … it was real struggle to me … so I continued my schooling fighting hard … a few teachers would help me by giving me their notes …. sadly most of them didn’t …until I reached the tenth grade where we decide what stream to choose, my passion was scientific stuff I always loved my science book but I was so scared because I can’t see what teachers write , anyway I took the risk and chose the scientific stream, depending on my hearing and the school book I finished high school, it was such a stressful time of my life but I ended it successfully, after 12 years of stress and suffering and zero close friends and being embarrassed among my classmates,12 years of teachers telling me “you're smart “ but never really doing anything to improve the education process to make it accessible to me, the nightmare of reading the book and put it so close to my eyes, when I failed in computer exam because I could not see the screen and many other memories after all that I graduated and went to university.
My dream was to study in a European university but the reality was way too far, my only option was to study in open system university, I had to choose from a very few available subjects, I chose to major in information communication technology.
University was not much better than the school, same issues, the same problems, one of the university workers said “since you are a vision impairment person you better change this major “ instead of bringing the tools to help they asked me to change my major.
So I kept my way and my struggle was not joyful journey. I faced many problems like my bad hand writing ,that made me lose points and even fall in some classes because the lecturer didn’t bother to read my answers, and the university refused to let me use the computer to write my answers to solve this problem, the practical lab issues that were solvable by a table magnifier but again university didn’t bother doing anything to make things better ……..
It took me 8 years to graduate and get my Bachelor degree, with grade that does not candidate me to get a scholarships... all because the university refused to give me the simple resources to be able to learn and show my knowledge.
I still dream to get a good education … where knowledge is much more important than grades, in place where the situation adjusts to fit the person's needs and not the way around.