Hala's Story

“Okay, so let me tell you what I do when I get home”, Hala, 12, says as she smiles and begins to gesture with her hands out in front of her.

“When I am at home, what I like to do is to sit on my chair and put my little table in front of me, pull out my notebook and start writing”. Hala explains that her writing not only helps with her speaking ability but also gives her the opportunity to express herself in non-verbal ways.

12-year-old Hala, who is currently in Grade 6 in a school in Za’atari Refugee Camp, is partially deaf and has difficulty speaking. She was first diagnosed at school with the help of UNICEF’s partner Mercy Corps, which led to an Individual Education Plan being developed for her to monitor learning progress. This included the need to sit for speech therapy sessions and Hala must also wear a hearing aid device.

Image: ©UNICEF/El-Noaimi/2021
Hala, 12, Grade 6 in a class in her school in Za’atari Refugee Camp, Jordan. UNICEF/ElNoaimi/2021

Hala is able to have extra support with her learning and is slowly beginning to improve clarity with her speech and is beginning to learn how to lip-read, so that understanding others is becoming easier.

She attends regular speech and listening sessions with a therapist who practices sound recognition and speech practice over and over, “They teach me how to spell out the alphabet and make sounds with my mouth, it’s really exciting!” explains Hala.

Image: ©UNICEF/El-Noaimi/2021
Hala engages in the “Mirror exercise”. A practise which involves the mimicking of the shape of the therapists mouth to improve pronounciation for children who have difficulty speaking. UNICEF/El-Noaimi/2021

“I love writing and I simply love writing about anything and everything”. Everyday, Hala comes into school to not only show her teachers her writing but to also read to them what she has written.

Leaving Syria to find safety in another country is beyond imaginable for any child. Asides from the trauma and disruption to health and wellbeing that can hinder a child’s development, disruptions to a child’s schooling can have an adverse impact on their prospects. For refugee children who have arrived in Jordan with a disability, daily life and learning becomes even more challenging.

At the start of every session the therapist first assesses the condition of Hala’s hearing aid device by doing some hearing exercises designed to make sure that Hala is hearing well.

During the session, the therapist trains Hala on learning how to distinguish and pronounce similar sounding letters. With the mirror exercise, the therapist will show Hala how to verbally pronounce these letters and then Hala will look at her reflection in the mirror and try to imitate the same expression the therapist makes when making a sound.

Image: ©UNICEF/El-Noaimi/2021
Hala practices pronunciation with the speech therapist at a school in Za’atari camp. UNICEF/El-Noaimi/2021

The therapist wears a special see-through mask so that Hala can see the teacher’s face while taking the appropriate safety measurements during the pandemic.

Hala’s progress is inspiring her to work towards achieving several goals. Making friends at school is a difficult task for Hala, especially when her speech hinders interaction. “If I attend these speech therapy sessions maybe I will be able to communicate better with the other girls and then become friends with all of them”.

While making more friends is one aspiration, Hala also wants to put her progress in speech and listening into helping others as she has been helped. “Being here with my kind teacher has inspired me to dream and become a speech therapist too one day” explains Hala. “Being a teacher, is a noble job, teaching little children these skills is very important and will change their lives and future”.

Education for children with disabilities and refugee children requires greater focus and investment.

Through the Prospects Partnership, funded by the Government of the Netherlands, UNICEF can work to help better integrate refugee children with physcial and learning disabilities into school, so that no child is left behind when it comes to education.