I am Kafaát: courage in the face of adversity in Lebanon

I AM KAFAÁT. I AM Potential. I (simply) AM. As long as there is a heart that beats in my body, As long as there is a soul that floats in my being, I AM POTENTIAL. I AM KAFAÁT. I AM.

These words are taken from the Al-Kafaát website and are at the heart of all of its service through its centres.

Embrace has been partnering with Al-Kafaát for over 50 years. Al-Kafaát offers rehabilitation, inclusive education and social engagement for children and adults living in Lebanon with disabilities. Many of the beneficiaries also benefit from employment as a result of vocational training workshops.

The word Al-Kafaát in Arabic conveys the sense of potential or abilities. The use of this word carries a certain poignancy with it. This is because in a Middle East context such as Lebanon, living with disabilities continues to attract a level of shame and pity from other members of the local community.  So through the provision of its services Al-Kafaát is also restoring a sense of identity, dignity and value to the lives of its beneficiaries and their families.

Embrace through the continued generosity of its supporters, funds some of the rehabilitation and inclusive education services offered by Al-Kafaát in different centres within Beirut. The fruit of Al Kafaát’s continued service to those living with disabilities in Lebanon has resulted in it becoming something of a pioneer in the field of rehabilitative and social care within the country and the biggest institution of its kind.

The Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs (MOSA) refers individuals to Al-Kafaát for specialist care and services, and Al-Kafaát have come to rely heavily on government subsidies to continue their work (offered per beneficiary according to the level and type of support they receive).

Sadly in 2019 we witnessed many aspects of life in Lebanon become paralysed as a result of successive years of economic mismanagement by the central Government. Scores of Lebanese people took to the streets calling for reform and a change of government in October 2019.

As economic matters worsened, the government either failed to make expected payments to Al-Kafaát or they came much later than expected.  Al-Kafaát had to make the very difficult decision to start closing down some of its residential and day care facilities. Staff continued to work without being paid for six months. It is a testimony to the working environment at Al-Kafaát that for some time staff chose to continue working even when they knew they would not be receiving salaries due to the worsening crisis.

Sadly by November 2019, Al-Kafaát was forced to close down its centres completely. Employees were given the option to take redundancy: all but three of the 360 or so employees remained in post, not knowing when or whether they would be paid or what the future held for the work of Al-Kafaát.

The consequences of the economic paralysis in Lebanon clearly had a profound impact on the lives of the children and adults who had previously on a daily basis received care, inclusive education and a sense of worth and potential as a result of the programmes run by Al-Kafaát.

What was amazing for all to witness was that these people – the disabled beneficiaries of the love and care of Al-Kafaát – refused to accept the consequences of the Government’s failings without making their feelings known. This was somewhat different from the prevailing social norms.

Two voices that were particularly audible were those of 12-year-old Wafaa and 10-year old Ali. Both Wafaa and Ali are part of the community at Al-Kafaát and had been benefitting from rehabilitative care and inclusive education through the centres.

Wafaa was invited to appear live on a local talk show to speak about the plight of Al-Kafaát. Appearing alongside her was the Minister of Social Affairs. Wafaa looked the Minister straight in the eyes as he told her that all dues would be paid and she would soon be able to return to the centre she had been a part of.

When however the promised money failed to materialise and Wafaa was not back at her centre, engaging with staff and her peers, Wafaa took to the airwaves again. She appeared on another TV show where she was able to share her concerns with the TV viewers about the Minister’s failure to follow through on his promise - “how could he look me in the eyes and promise, and then not fulfil his promise?”

10-year-old Ali was spotted by the media after he took to the streets alongside a mix of employees and parents of the beneficiaries to protest the closure of some of the Al-Kafaát centres as a result of the economic stalemate.

Ali too was invited to appear live on TV, where he explained the impact that the economic mismanagement and failings of the government were having on him personally – he explained how he felt he was regressing without access to the necessary medical assistance and therapy he received through the Al-Kafaát centre.

Whilst this media coverage is in Arabic it is extremely impacting to watch and helps you understand just the difference which the work of Al-Kafaát brings to so many. If you would like to see for yourself follow this link.

The perseverance and commitment of the staff at Al-Kafaát and the voices of Wafaa and Ali finally paid off. On 20th January 2020 Al-Kafaát received a payment from the Lebanese government which allowed them to re-open the day centres.  A further payment was received on 28th January enabling Al-Kafaát to re-open the boarding facilities and for all Al-Kafaát employees to receive their outstanding wages. However things remain uncertain.

Al-Kafaát has had to weather a lot of storms. During the brutal civil war, Al-Kafaát was occupied by various factions on close to 15 occasions and had to be rebuilt more than once and the economic crisis in Lebanon is not yet resolved. 

This recent episode which saw staff and beneficiaries come together and take a stand is testimony to the commitment and perseverance that comes with a calling and service to those in community around you who find themselves living on the margins of society. It is also a reminder to just how vulnerable and precarious life can be when you find yourself living on the margins.

The poem which is at the heart of a new media campaign which Al-Kafaát has launched helps us all to voice the limitations we all face but it also reminds us that we all have potential. As I read the poem I couldn’t help but reflect on just what it meant for Wafaa and Ali to have the ear of Lebanese society when they spoke to the media.  The courage they displayed but also the dignity with which they spoke.

Sadly in the Middle East, those living with disabilities are often forced to live a life of isolation, confined at home with few opportunities if any to meet their potential.

For me, the TV appearances of Wafaa and Ali sent a strong message across the whole nation, showing a different perspective for those living with disabilities in Lebanon and that everyone has potential. The TV appearance also demonstrate just how real and urgent is the need for Al-Kafaát’s centres, not just in providing physical services but also in challenging attitudes and bringing a voice to those who are often forced to live on the margins of society in Lebanon.

Please join with us in praying for all the members of the community that is Al-Kafaát. That they continue to receive all they need and that above all they know: I AM POTENTIAL. I AM KAFAÁT. I AM.

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