hen Wadad Bou DagherKharrat saw the flat line on the monitor, her heart dropped. In 2009, she had brought her 18-month-old twins, Angie and Karl, to have their hearing tested. The children had never seemed to turn their heads when she called them by name. And even if the sound was blaring, they would also sleep in front of the television. Although Mrs. Dagher-Kharrat had searched for benign explanations for these irregularities, she could not argue with the tympanometer’s results that day at the hospital — nor with the consultant who then told her that her children were deaf. After receiving the news, she experienced a feeling she compares to mourning: “We struggled to believe it, to admit that it was true.” This difficult period included a faith struggle. Mrs. Dagher-Kharrat began to question God, to reproach him, asking: “Why us?” For months she and her husband wrestled with this revelation, the internal strife often manifesting as arguments between them. Yet this hardship eventually gave way to an acceptance after which, she says, she has never looked back. “I finally managed to say to God: ‘Thy will be done.’ “From that moment on, I was in an indescribable faith I had never experienced before. Since that moment, I have never faltered once. It was a radical change.” Instead of resisting her children’s deafness, Mrs. Dagher-Kharrat embraced it. This led her, and the children, to the Father Roberts Institute for Deaf Children, a specialized school in the village of Sehaileh, some 40 minutes north of Beirut.
On a recent glorious June afternoon, Mrs. Dagher-Kharrat stood in the main lobby of the school, waiting for her twins to finish the day. It was the last day of the term, bringing the academic year to a close. Summer awaited. Managed by the Basilian Chouerite Sisters of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, the Father Roberts Institute is one of many Christian institutions that form the mainstay of care in Lebanon for
Wadad Bou Dagher-Kharrat stands with her children, Angie and Karl, at the Father Roberts Institute. t Students join hands to perform the dabke, a folk dance native to the Levant.
those with special needs, such as Angie and Karl; for the aged; and for those with mental illness. The weak Lebanese state has devolved to the point of leaving the provision
of such care mostly to the religious sector. The ethos of care that prevails at the Father Roberts Institute began with one Rev. Ronald Roberts, an English Catholic priest who first came to Lebanon in 1942 as a chaplain in the British army. While there, he noticed a gaping lacuna in the education of children with hearing impairments. He was moved by how society met their condition with stigma and ignorance; deaf children were often kept at home, hidden away and denied the opportunities given to other children. Father Roberts saw education as the best way to counteract this. When he returned to the country in 1959, he established his school for the deaf, with a key focus on providing help and care for the poorest of the poor. Today, that impulse has translated into a comprehensive, multidisciplinary school for deaf children and, more recently, also for children with developmental disabilities. The Father Roberts Institute begins its work with children as young as 6 months old, leading them through the same curriculum followed by all Lebanese students, right up to a high school diploma. Beyond this, the school offers pre-university training courses and vocational training. In parallel to academic studies, children at the institute benefit from an array of therapeutic and clinical support programs — from physical therapy to speech therapy and psychological counseling. “They wouldn’t get this kind of therapy in a mainstream school,” says Joelle Wheibie, the school’s speech therapist.
OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF CNEWA
The official publication of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA)