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April 6, 2017

International Sports Day: Through Sports, Syrian Refugee Women with Disabilities Strengthen Ties to Society

photoAmman, Jordan, has many steep roads, so it is difficult to get around in a wheelchair (Photo by Shin'ichi Kuno of JICA)
photoA disability is not the problem of the individual who has it, but of society, says a Syrian refugee with a disability at a workshop

By sending experts to Jordan to support Syrian refugees with disabilities and by training specialists in Jordan in assisting people with disabilities, JICA has kindled a community that is making Jordanian society more accessible.
One development emblematic of this change is a group of women with disabilities who gather to play table tennis. It includes both Syrian refugees and Jordanians. This is noteworthy because in Arab society, it is rare for not only women with disabilities, but often for women in general, to participate in sports.
April 6 is the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace. Read on about how JICA is supporting Syrian refugee women with disabilities participate more fully in society.
There are more than 650,000 Syrian refugees living in Jordan, and many of them live in rural communities. It is difficult for them to work legally and there is much that still needs to be improved in their living environments. In addition, 26 percent of refugees are said to have a disability because, for example, they were shot at or caught up in a bombing in Syria, and some people worry that these refugees will remain isolated from society.

In 2014, JICA began supporting Syrian refugees with disabilities by dispatching to Jordan Japanese experts with disabilities. Now persons with disabilities have started up mutual support groups in Jordan that carry out various activities. Disability Equality Training (DET) facilitators*2 and peer counselors*3 — who have undergone special training with JICA's support — are coming into their own, and they have begun to be able to gather information about disabilities on their own, raise awareness and plan and carry out various activities. As a result, groups of persons with disabilities are beginning to provide support for Syrian refugees who were wounded, became disabled and fled to Jordan, and the scope of their activities is beginning to broaden.

Rebuilding ties to society through sports

photoA Jordanian coach and women with disabilities have fun playing table tennis
photoJordanians with disabilities play table tennis with Syrian refugees with disabilities

In November 2016, Syrian refugee women with disabilities played table tennis at a sports facility in Amman, Jordan. This activity for persons with disabilities was suggested by Syrian refugee women. It became reality thanks to the determination and hard work of Waed Abazid, who studied about societal participation by people with disabilities as a member of a JICA-supported group and took part in training.

In Arab nations, for social and cultural reasons it is not considered acceptable for women to go out alone. It is common for them to be accompanied by family and friends outside the home, so for people with disabilities to participate in life outside the home, first they must get the consent of the people around them. Waed first approached the families of women with disabilities and tried to persuade them of the importance of women with disabilities being independent and participating in society, telling about her own change process. As a result, on this day 10 Syrian refugee women with disabilities participated in table tennis with people such as their mothers and sisters. Thanks to the fun of sports, they are reclaiming their ties to society.

Waed later consulted with her friend Aida Shishani, a Jordanian with a disability who is a DET facilitator, and they worked to involve in the activities Jordanian women with disabilities, rather than just Syrian refugees. Waed and Aida talked to Jordanian women with disabilities who had no opportunities to go outside their homes and persuaded their families, and as a result two Jordanian women newly began to participate in the table tennis. Activity that began as support for Syrian refugees with disabilities has transcended nationality and begun bringing benefits to persons with disabilities who live in Jordan.

Because Arab women, regardless of whether they have a disability, do not have the custom of engaging in exercise, they get quite engaged and lively even when they just form a circle and do warm-up exercises. Family members who accompany the participants (mothers and sisters) also are participating in the warm-up exercises.

Support and cooperation spread throughout the community

A partnership between JICA and the international humanitarian assistance agency Medair also has begun. Medair’s stated goal is “to relieve suffering in some of the world’s most remote and devastated places.” Learning about the continuous activities of JICA to assist Syrian refugees with disabilities, Medair requested training by DET facilitators who learned that skill with JICA's assistance. Medair held a workshop for 30 community health volunteers providing health improvement guidance to refugees and assisted them with creating an activity plan. For the next step, Medair plans to share with JICA techniques for carrying out psychological support for groups of Syrian refugees with disabilities. JICA is rolling out support not just for refugees, but for people from various walks of life who tend to be left out of Jordanian communities.

*1 Jordan accepts more Syrian refugees than any countries but Turkey and Lebanon. Refugee counts are from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (Data current as of Dec. 4, 2016.)

*2 Disability Equality Training (DET) — Participatory, discovery-type training that aims to help participants realize, discover and even solve everyday societal problems faced by persons with disabilities. It also helps them become aware of environments and systems that create “disabilities.” Persons with disabilities work as training facilitators.
*3 Peer counselors — Persons with disabilities who can listen to another person with a disability as an equal and perform peer counseling, which is a method for exchanging information on such matters as knowledge and experience needed for independent living and for providing mutual support by listening to each other’s internal worries and hardships.


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