Mona and her sister Ola are sitting on the ground with a smartphone, worksheets and pencils, doing some language exercises.
“I look at the letters on the phone and what the teachers are saying, and I use a paper and pen to write what they are asking. Now I know how to read a little bit. I want to learn more, and I want to speak English, before this I couldn’t do any of that,” says Mona.
12-year-old Mona fled Homs, Syria with her parents as a toddler in 2013. Her seven-year-old sister Ola was born in the refugee camp in Bekaa, Lebanon where they have settled since then. Any family in their position faces a lot of challenges, but for them particularly it’s even more so as Mona and Ola were born with paralysis that hinders the growth of their lower bodies.
Their physical disability has made it impossible for the girls to get enrolled in Lebanese schools.
“No school would accept them because they believed it would be a huge responsibility since my daughters require very close attention in order not to hurt themselves,” their mother Siham says.
Their mother and father Shadi, a baker, tried hard to find a cure for their daughters’ condition but to no avail. Nevertheless, they were determined to give their daughters the best possible life that they could.
“Their brains are fully functional, they are brilliant. I believe that if given the adequate opportunity they can offer a lot to humanity,” Shadi says.
A Chance Encounter
Azima offers children the chance to learn remotely by providing a smartphone and internet bundle where teachers can send explanation videos, exercises and give feedback to the students. The program was operating during Covid, to deal with social distancing measures, but later, after its success, the program was developed to cater to children who cannot make it to school for various reasons such as physical disabilities, as the case with Mona and Ola, but also could be because of distance to school, or because the children must work for families to make ends meet.
“Our goal in the Azima program is for the children to at least know how to read and write so they can communicate with the world around them. Now they can read and write, speak a little English, they know the numbers, they can read the street signs,” says schoolteacher Zeinab Ajram.
A Brighter Future
“They benefited a lot. Also, their mental health has improved significantly as they were suffering before watching all their friends and neighbors going to school and learning while they could not,” their mother Siham says.
“My favorite part of the day is studying. I spend more than five hours a day on the phone and doing my assignments,” Mona says, adding that she also helps her younger sister with her studies.
Now that Mona has taken her first steps on her educational journey, she feels her dream is attainable. “When I grow up, I want to become a doctor to treat people with illnesses,” Mona asserts.