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One Woman Is Breaking the Stigma of Being Disabled in Saudi Arabia –and She Started Door to Door

“Back in the 1980s, when mainstream notions of inclusion were still not considered feasible, being disabled in Saudi Arabia meant requiring special services, which were not available in either hospitals or schools, ” says Maha Ghandour, who runs the HELP Center for Guidance and Counseling in Jeddah. So she began to raise the issue.

We literally had to knock on the doors of hospitals and schools to ask if there were children born with disabilities. Parents needed answers to questions no one could help them with, and so the ball started rolling,” she said in an interview with BarakaBits. What started as a pilot project run by volunteers in a small unit in a residential compound soon turned into Saudi Arabia’s first private non-profit dedicated to intellectual disabilities.

Setting up the institution not only required skill, but a good dose of pragmatism, so a brown door with the word “HELP” written in blue was the center’s first branding. “Disability was not socially accepted back then and if we had not carefully chosen our name, many parents would not have brought their children,” she says.

Today, the center grew to a well established entity in Jeddah, where science labs, drama and music programs, and community workshops help ensure that each child reaches full potential.  “We have never spent a single cent on advertising campaigns since our establishment; it’s the parents who tell their stories,” Ghandour proudly states.

For more information: Visit the HELP Center‘s website.

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Valentina Primo

Journalist, globetrotter, and determined idealist. Since Valentina left her home country of Argentina, she has searched for ways to build bridges between cultures and foster dialogue. Her previous work in international organizations in Italy and Germany fed her passion for the world of development, while her 8-year journalistic experience in Argentina and Egypt increased her curiosity for everything that challenges the stereotype. She holds a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Peace Studies with a specialization in Human Rights.

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