Teachers are gifted, full of patience and power to bring up future knowledgeable generations. I’ve witnessed the fruits of the work of IDEAL staff, but also SKILD Center’s, which has been supporting students with learning difficulties and disabilities in public and private schools throughout their education, since it was established in 2011. This year, the team finally bridged the gap to higher education with the debut of the IDEAL Program with the Notre Dame University – Louaize (NDU).
I was introduced to the program in my first weeks in Lebanon when visiting the “IDEAL and Beyond” camp where I felt welcomed by the students’ wide smiles and the positive environment they created. It was a two-nights camp to teach IDEAL students with learning difficulties and/or special needs independent living skills. I got the opportunity to attend the last night of camp with the parents for a students’ performance, food made by the students, and a campfire.
As I spent time with the parents, staff, and students, I realized three things that make IDEAL special in society and in the life of the students.
The community that IDEAL has created between parents, students, and staff is so strong that it’s even reaching to the other Lebanese and Arabs in different parts of the world. This September, a Lebanese family will be coming all the way from the United States to enroll their son at IDEAL as they were attracted to the warmth and care they were offered at the program. Another family left Syria to enroll their son at IDEAL, but now they will have to leave to Canada which has been the hard part for them. When I spoke to the mother, she expressed her gratitude for IDEAL. She also mentioned how challenging it’s been for the family to make a decision on whether to leave to Canada or stay in Lebanon since their son enjoyed his last semester so much. The son mentioned that what he will miss the most is his friends.
In fact, Lama Badaoui, the director of IDEAL and the head of the Learning Accommodation Service at NDU, told me that the students and staff at IDEAL are like one family. The camp reminded the students and parents of the community they have at IDEAL. The students learned to work with one another; for example, they cooked their meals together, washed the dishes, and prepared their camp bedrooms. This encouraged them to know the significance of community and teamwork.
During the camp, the students performed different talents and short plays in collaboration with one another. The enthusiasm and effort of the IDEAL staff and parents was evident. During the performance, the students emceed the whole performance period, which was an accomplishment by itself as they built confidence for public speaking and performing in front of an audience. I remember one of the camp participants was so nervous when it came to performing publicly and kept hugging her mother after each performance. I could relate to her in how each person feels the anxiety of public speaking and would want to hug their loved ones to feel at peace. Despite all that, the same participant proudly performed more than once during the night. The parents were proud of their children and were impressed by the talents IDEAL discovered in each student. During the campfire nights, each student was given an award for their work such as, awards for best attendance, sense of humour and more. All this encouraged the students to keep persevering and to also be proud of themselves and the effort they put into the camp.
As a university student myself, I was inspired by the students and the independent living skills they learned during camp. Every new experience, no matter how small, can have a big impact. For instance, sleeping in a new place for the two-night camp without parents allowed the students to practice the independent living skills they learned during the year. The students learned to get along with one another despite the difference in their personalities and interest in completing tasks. This all adds to the social and life skills which we as adults work hard to build in ourselves. I loved how this camp incorporated a wide range of skills in a fun and enjoyable way.
I realized three things that make IDEAL Program special in society and in the life of the students: [a strong sense of community], [boosting the child’s sense of self confidence], and [learning life skills that help them make their way to independent living]
Getting to know some of the parents at IDEAL and also spending time with the students were one of the highlights in my time in Lebanon. To see a program as IDEAL in Lebanon is a big progress. Many parents and I share the same hope of having this program spread worldwide, and particularly in the Middle East. I’m looking forward to seeing these students thrive in everything they do in life. Each one of them is a star, full of potential, talents, and a bright future. This program in my eyes is simply, ideal.