I'm finishing up here in Jordan and will be returning home on Monday after 774 challenging, exciting, happy, sad, Arabic-filled, lonely, fulfilling days in the Peace Corps. It's so hard to describe what this experience has meant to me--I know it's changed my life. And I know it wouldn't have happened were it not for my mom and Hannah.
After Hannah was born, as I was growing up, I knew I wanted to do something related to children with disabilities, especially Down syndrome. My junior year of college, I thought I might become a speech therapist, and visited graduate schools in that field. I also considered becoming a lawyer specializing in adoption--specifically of children with disabilities from other countries (a la Reece's Rainbow). That was also the year my mom suggested the Peace Corps. I knew from the moment I started the application that I would be accepted. I was invited to become a special education teacher in Jordan, a small country in the Middle East.
|Me soon after arriving in Jordan|
After two months, I moved to my permanent site, in another small village. These people were farmers, not Bedouin, and my village was filled with greenery instead of desert.
|The view from my house!|
|Qosai, A'atif, and Battoul, students at my center|
|My friend Natalie, Islam (a student), and myself at Jerash, a Roman archeological site|
|Ali and Fatima, students, on a picnic in a nearby village|
For instance, my student Mohammad Jamal is in a wheelchair. The story his mother told us was that she fell down while pregnant, harming baby Mohammad in utero, and that's why he is paralyzed. He is cognitively normal, but attends a special education center because the students at a typical school would be too cruel to him.
Children with disabilities in Jordan do not excel because they are not given the tools to do so. They are not accepted into society. They are not given proper teachers or care. Many are not allowed out of the house. They are marginalized in every way. We often see stories in the media about the oppression of women in Islamic societies; this is nothing compared to what people with disabilities face. The Jordanian government is, on paper, extremely progressive when it comes to people with disabilities. The problem is, there's no trickle-down effect. Decisions made at the top level by the Higher Council for the Affairs of People with Disabilities are rarely, or if they are, slowly, effected on the ground level, especially in villages.
I have a student with Down syndrome who is around five years old. For the first week he attended our center, no one bothered to find out his name. We called him welad, which means boy. His name turned out to be Isma'il (Ishmael), and he's one of my favorite kids.
Living in Jordan, I've gained ten pounds, learned Arabic, played 4,434 games of solitaire on my computer, and read over 200 books. I've also formed countless relationships with the people around me, and I hope that my influence has helped open their minds a little. I've tried to explain that people with disabilities can succeed, can speak, read, write, work, and marry. I know Hannah is capable of all those things and more. I wish the Jordanian culture and people were more accepting of people who are "different," and I know that in time someone will prove them wrong.
I set out to write this blog post as an overview of my Peace Corps service. Instead I seem to have gone on a rant about Jordanian culture. I don't mean to offend anyone or disparage anything--I'm all about cultural relativism. However, I think this topic is extremely important, and I hope that this will inspire people in America (and Jordan, if they read this) to encourage their daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, and friends with disabilities to achieve everything they are able to--which is certainly more than we expect of them.
|Me, my girl, and my best friend Greer in January|