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At one point, not many years ago, it seemed a far-fetched dream! To see our son Christopher and his cohorts from the NDU-SKILD IDEAL program march like other university students with cap and gown!  To hear Christopher’s name called out, see him shake hands with the president of the university, and then the cheering… all of this, in the past 18 years or so, seemed impossible.

Zig Ziglar said “success is achieved by ordinary people with extraordinary determination”.  Indeed so! It was the determination of one man, Christopher’s dad and founder of SKILD, that made it happen. Nabil’s unwavering commitment to reverse the tides and relieve children with special needs in Lebanon from the discrimination and the pressure of being dependent, paved the way for SKILD’s journey in walking alongside children with special needs and their families, a journey culminating in the partnership between SKILD and NDU. This partnership was complete with the support of Lipscomb University in the United States on whose campus IDEAL was first established.

IDEAL, standing for Igniting the Dream of Education and Access in Lipscomb motivated SKILD & NDU to work towards igniting this same dream in Lebanon.  IDEAL is a two-year university program for students with developmental disabilities that aims to develop their academic, career, as well as life and social skills. Each semester, students are enrolled in 3 courses offered by special educators. They also have the chance to choose from a pool of courses that they can audit with other students at the university. It is the long unfathomed opportunity for our children knowing that, with the challenges they have, the chances are high that they may not be able to join the workforce and become financially independent and productive citizens like their peers who do not have special needs.

With these words I share my joy – as well as that of other parents – for having been given the opportunity to witness our children graduate from the program and from an accredited university. Our feelings are beyond words, especially now that we realize that our children have access to opportunities to further their studies and/or find a job, and so gradually gain more self-confidence as they make their way in the job market.

It is very difficult to find words that can express how I feel about Christopher’s great achievement. Every time I think about the graduation, I have flash backs to when he was growing up and we could not understand what made him behave differently … throwing tantrums when things did not go his way or when he did not want to do his homework, or when he refused to go to school …. Not to mention those heartbreaking times when he was overwhelmed with sadness because it was difficult for him to have friends, or when he preferred to be alone rather than around other children who did not make him feel well about himself. I cannot believe that finally many of the issues that prevented Christopher from being in social settings or at school or any other disciplined setting have subdued. I am so thankful that, despite all the rough times when his teachers felt helpless and therapists could not find comforting words to give us hope about his future, today there is hope, big time!

I am living every parent’s dream to see one’s daughter or son with special needs a graduate of a reputable university, equipped with a degree and the knowledge and skills that prepare them for a decent fulfilling job that brings with it feelings of pride having made it thus far despite the challenges that sometimes made learning a difficult task. I keep reliving the images of Christopher on the stage walking with the cap and gown and receiving the diploma. That graduation afternoon with the ceremony and party will always be in my memory. I am sure that it will be the same for other parents whose children have learning difficulties. None of us parents can find the best words to express our gratitude as we witness our children experience real inclusion at college, especially that students of the IDEAL program graduated in the same ceremony as other students at NDU.

The IDEAL program and the experiences that come along are such sources of pride for parents and for our challenged children. I would like to share with you some impressions from other parents:

Andrew’s mother shared how she “could never believe that [she] will see him graduating from college.” Marian’s mother expressed gratitude on behalf of all parents as the IDEAL Program “gave us plentiful hope for our children, for their future.” Similarly, Raja’s mother said that she could not believe that she would be able to witness what she was seeing. On this special day, we were all proud moms and dads of the great achievement of our children. We finally lived to see the day when, like Raja, the graduates of the IDEAL program, knew what they wanted to do with their life, despite the challenges they experience daily.


At one point, not many years ago, it seemed a dream too far-fetched to see our son graduate from University


The graduation day at NDU was also an opportunity for us parents of the first cohort of graduates of the IDEAL program to express our gratitude to the wonderful team of experts, special educators, psychologists, therapists, and teachers, as well as peer mentors for having put their hearts and expertise at the service of our children. Had it not been for their dedication and professionalism, our children maybe would not have been able to complete the journey at NDU and graduate with a variety of skills and wealth of information. God bless NDU staff and SKILD Center and IDEAL team members for all their great efforts. They played key roles as our children defied their challenges to make the steps towards becoming responsible resourceful young men and women.

Tomorrow is a new day for all of us. We sure look forward to exchanging notes one day in the future, we proud parents of these young graduates – and learn what the first cohort of IDEAL alumni have done with their lives, and how they went about living to reap the benefits of the program.

Lena Costa

Lena is a piano teacher, and she has long been involved in music distribution and production. At her home studio, which she established more than a decade ago, she has collaborated with many singers and musicians, namely singers who dedicated most of their careers to religious hymns. She is also founder of the #Intisar team and she is currently the producer of the famous singer #AymanKafrouny. Lena is a mother of two boys, Nicolas (the eldest) and Christopher (the youngest) who, after several tough years battling his challenges, turned out to have special educational needs. For many years, it was very difficult to find an appropriate school setting for Christopher, the family had to deal with the negative impact of several failed attempts. This prompted them to venture into establishing a specialized center under the umbrella of the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (LSESD) with the support of friends – namely Dr. Sheila Smith - specialized in the field of learning disabilities and special needs, and together they named it the Center for Smart Kids with Individual Learning Differences (SKILD) in 2011. The aim is to enable as many families as possible in Lebanon to secure specialized care and therapy for their children and to spread awareness about the rights and needs of these children and inclusion.

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