My friend Kitti South along with Melissa Diamond are in Jenin, in the West Bank of the Palestinian territory for the next few months working on “The Jenin Autism Project,” part of “A Global Voice for Autism.” They are there to help parents learn about autism and Applied Behavior Analysis and help connect them to other autism resources as well as building their own supportive network. They are blogging their experiences here to share their efforts in figuring out how to best help children with autism in a part of the world where so little help is available. See the end of this post for links to prior posts on “The Jenin Autism Project.”
Today [Monday] we met the families who will be participating in the project. We were supposed to start at 10 a.m., but time is very flexible here in Palestine. Some of the families came with the children, and there are a surprising number of girls diagnosed with Autism in Jenin. There were intially supposed to be 15 families involved in the project, but six have had their autism diagnosis revoked since the application process over the summer.
When this project was initiated over the summer, the mothers had never met each other, but today it was evident that there was a sense of community between them. They wanted to wait for everyone to arrive before beginning the meeting and were actively engaged in conversation with each other about each of the topics brought up at the meeting.
Once everyone arrived, we went to our meeting room to being going over the logistics and training schedule for the program. The general consensus was that the didactic trainings will take place on Saturdays and the follow-up coaching and practice sessions will take place the follow Monday. During the training on Saturdays, there will be a sibling support program in place for any siblings who come with their parents. And for one hour after training on Saturdays, there will be a parent support group, where parents can get autism-specific questions answered and receive support from us as well as their community members. Overall, the families were very welcoming and excited for us to be here.
After the training ended, we were invited to lunch with two of the translators who are volunteering with the program. They are studying English at the local university and have been so welcoming to us over the past few days! They took us to an upscale restaurant that we never would have found on our own, which had menu items like cheeseburgers, pizza and fried chicken of all things!After lunch, we went to the Jenin Governorate Center to meet the governor of Jenin. He welcomed us to Jenin and Palestine and pledged his support to the program and to the importance of raising awareness for autism in the community.
Once we arrived back to the JC3 (Jenin Creative Cultural center), there was another family who had traveled all the way from Ramallah (two hours) to meet with us in the hopes that they could join the training. We spent some time interviewing them and helping with the application. The director of a local special needs center attended with the family, and the staff from the center may also attend our trainings, which will help build capacity in their community.
After all of the meetings, it was time to eat dinner before settling in for the night. Almost all of the stores and restaurants close around 5 or 6 p.m. here, so we quickly ran down to the restaurant below the JC3, and were so pleased to find they had roasted chicken and rice, with pita, Arab salad (marinated cucumbers, tomatoes, onion, parsley and mint — deliciousness!) and soup. This is by far the best meal we have had in my opinion (Athough all of the food here has been delicious, this was the most complete meal.), and we were all pretty excited about it!
On the schedule for tomorrow is shopping for fresh fruits, veggies and bread at the local open air market and possibly touring some special needs centers and residential facilities in Jenin.
Click here to read their first post about the project.
Melissa and Kitti will take turns blogging about their experiences, which will be posted here and on their own blog. For more information, please check their blog and the website for A Global Voice for Autism.