BEIRUT: Within 45 years of being founded, Step Together Association Riverside has been a safe and productive haven for over 1000 individuals with special needs in Lebanon.
The NGO first began its mission in 1974, when Dr. Wali Merhej established a kindergarten and a diagnostic center for special needs in the Mousaitbeh area.
In 1993, the non-profit organization under the name of FiSTA was founded. Today, it’s known as Step Together Association Riverside for special needs children and adults with diverse disabilities and is chaired by Dr. Reem Moawad in Daishounieh.
“Based on Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy, our mission aims to improve each of our student’s quality of life through individualized instruction and therapy,” Moawad told Annahar.
Step Together Association is the only registered school and community in the Middle East that follows the principles of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian-born spiritualist and philosopher who developed the spiritual movement of Anthroposophy, and who believes that if the highest faculties of mental knowledge are reached, pure thought can access a spiritual world.
With its multi-disciplinary team consisting of professionally trained and accredited therapists and tutors, STA’s educational methods are “designed to enhance the physical and mental capabilities of the students,” as Mouawad explained, adding that by “helping the students improve their social and communication skills, we give them the confidence to participate in their local communities.”
According to the Human Rights Watch and under Lebanese law, all children should have an education free from discrimination. In this regard, the Lebanese Parliament approved legislation 20 years ago that secures the basic rights for the disabled, Law No. 220, which has not yet been ratified. The same law recognizes the right of disabled children to education.
However, as a 2018 HRW report found that “the educational path of children with disabilities in Lebanon is strewn with logistical, social, and economic pitfalls … and they often face a compromised school experience—if they can enroll at all.”
STA’s accomplishments prove an exception to the general reality of special needs education in Lebanon.
“Many of our graduates are now employed, and are productive members in the local community,” Moawad said, adding that a constructive constituent of the students’ training for productivity are the prolific workshops they partake in, “especially the bakery, pottery, and candle workshops where adult students work,” and then the products are sold in both STA’s and open houses.
For everything accomplished, STA expresses its gratitude for both its committee members and its sponsors and donors, without whose efforts and financial assistance, “these students wouldn’t have received the education and therapy they strongly needed.”
However, just as the myriad of local businesses and organizations suffering from the country’s financial crisis, STA is also dealing with the negative consequences of the plunge of the Lebanese economy.
“STA is funded by donations, sponsorships, and fundraising events,” Moawad said, explaining with a heavy heart that the NGO will have to “make difficult choices in order to keep its doors open to some of its needy students,” trying its “utmost” not to completely close the organization’s doors, which will be “a mission not to reckon with.”
She continued: “It will be extremely hard to hold onto all our students who are registered with the Ministry of Social Affairs without receiving any assistance from it in return, and we need to triple and quadruple our efforts at fundraising in order to stay afloat.”
For that purpose, two of STA’s community members, Tania Chalfoun and Imane Assaf, will be holding open houses at their own residences to sell products such as towels, cookies, pottery items, candles, and a collection of hampers made, either prepared or baked in the NGO’s workshops by the students with special needs.
To know more about the Step Together Association and their upcoming fundraisers, you can visit them on www.steptogetherlb.org
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