Caring for the Mentally Retarded: The First Steps in Yemenuon’t [Archives:1998/21/Reportage]

May 25 1998

Ms. Eman Hashim Anqad, psychologist, is the director of the Eman Institute for Rehabilitation and Special Education (EIRSE) and the president of the Charitable Association of the Friends of the Mentally Disabled (CAFMD).
Ismail Al-Ghabiry of Yemen Times talked to Ms. Anqad in her office at the EIRSE, and filed the following interview.
Q: When did you first hit on the idea of establishing the EIRSE?
A: I got the idea in 1992 while I was working as a psychologist in the Home for Psychological Care. Many parents with mentally disabled children used to complain that there are no special centers or institutes to care for their kids. The mentally disabled cannot enroll in ordinary schools, and are generally rejected by society. ‘There should really be special institutions for these unfortunate people,’ I thought.
Q: How was the beginning then?
A: I submitted my proposed project to the relevant official bodies but to no avail. It was rejected under the feeble excuse of lack of financial and human resources.
So I took the task into my own hands by opening a kindergarten in 1992 with one disabled child taught by one teacher in one classroom. Six years on, we have two buildings with 30 classrooms and 300 students aged between a year and a half and 35 years.
Q: What departments does the EIRSE have?
A: First, there is the mental disability section housing 160 people with various degrees of mental disability. In addition to the rehabilitation service provided, the EIRSE also does ” home intervention” by educating the parents and other members of the family on how to treat the mentally disabled child.
Second, the recently opened cerebral palsy section has 50 people aged between 9 months and 18 years. Its capacity is still very limited, and lacks some basic facilities and equipment. More than 50 other cases are on this section’s waiting list.
There are more than 100 people aged between 2 and 20 years at the deaf, dumb and hard of hearing section. They are taught science language, after which they join a vocational rehabilitation program.
Fourth, a new section is opened to provide special education for those facing difficulties in normal schools. Modern educational methods are employed in this department.
The vocational rehabilitation and training section consists of departments for carpentry, sewing, computer, and gardening. Pupils enroll in this section according to their individual abilities.
Q: What major problems do you face in your work?
A: The most prominent problem is there is no law to regulate opening such institutions. Ever since the EIRSE was opened in 1992, we have been trying hard to obtain a license of a private school for students with special needs. That is why we work as a charitable society for handicapped people.
Such a project needs a lot of funds, facilities and qualified staff, which can only be provided by the government. So we rely on the fees paid by the students’ families, which we take according to their financial ability. Some students are cared for free of charge.
Another source of funds is of course the donations by philanthropists. I would like to take this opportunity to call on all benevolent people to help our institute.
Our staff are mainly holders of secondary-school degrees, university graduates are not attracted to work in such an institute. Lack of finances means low wages, which in turn leads to a big staff turnover and a lot of work disruption.
The EIRSE also suffers from lack of the proper facilities to teach and train these severely mentally disabled.
On another level, some parents get impatient and expect positive results very quickly. They often threaten us with stopping fees payments if their child does not improve fast. It is as if they we have a magic wand to immediately cure all disabilities. However, when we invite the parents to attend some classes and witness the progress of their kids, they give the excuse of being very busy.
Q: What are the goals and achievements of the CAFMD?
A: The CAFMD aims to establish more institutions to take care of handicapped people, train the necessary Yemen staff, and provide essential medicines and other physical aids.
Our achievements include:
– highly training more than 30 Yemeni female instructors to deal with people suffering from mental handicaps and cerebral palsy.;
– holding regular courses for parents of mentally disabled children to enable them to carry on with rehabilitating their children at home;
– early intervention by sending specialized staff to instruct the parents and their handicapped child at home;
– sending female staff to train in Arab countries; and
– inviting educational specialists from other Arab countries to train our staff here.
Q: Are you satisfied with these achievements?
A: No, I am not very satisfied. I have not really been able to achieve what I set out to do six years ago. It is not a very difficult job to do, and there are many external obstacles.
God created these human beings, and we re-create them socially by integrating them within society. I feel very happy and proud when I see one of the children improving and beginning to become independent.
Q: What advice do you give to parents with mentally handicapped children?
A: Just one word – patience! Giving birth to a mentally handicapped child is not the end of the world, there is always hope. I say to all parents with disabled children: never be embarrassed and try to help him or her as much as you can.
Q: What assistance have you received from donor countries and organizations?
A: 1- Oxfam (from 1995 to 1997) provided the salary for a specialist bought some equipment and organized intensive training courses for six months.
2- The Dutch Jowser company (from 1993 to 1998) provided an annual grant of $3,000.
3- GTZ (from 1996 to 1997) provided various amounts of financial grants.
4- The Dutch Embassy bought us various equipment and teaching aids in 1995 and a second-hand bus in 1996.
5- The American Women Association (from 1992 to 1998) paid the tuition fees for ten students.
6- The Social Development Fund paid the salary for a specialized instructor in 1998, sending three female teachers to train in Jordan, buying 3 computers, equipping a game hall, and buying 40 chairs, 3 cupboards and 3 tables.
7- The Japanese Embassy established a special unit at a cost of $31,000 for people with speech impediments.