BEIRUT: It was 1995 when Arwa Halawi first found out that her six year old son has autism. Back then, Halawi didn’t know the pivotal role she would end up playing in advocacy and support for children with autism all over Lebanon.
Today, Halawi is the president of the Lebanese Autism Society (LAS), an NGO which she co-founded 20 years ago with four other people. The NGO aims at supporting parents of children with autism, both financially and emotionally.
“We have helped more than a thousand children in the course of our careers,” Halawi told Annahar. “Autism is a never ending challenge.”
Halawi’s path into founding LAS links back to her journey in raising her own son. He was only a few months old when she first noticed something different about him.
“Early detection is crucial for children with autism, because it allows for early intervention before the child’s brain has completely matured,” says Halawi. “This is why it is a priority at LAS.”
The idea of LAS began to form only when Halawi bonded with other parents of children with autism. There was a unanimous agreement that more awareness needed to be raised concerning autism.
Thus, the NGO came to action in 1999 with three objectives in mind: to provide parents of children with autism with moral support; to give children with autism the best possible services; and to raise awareness about autism.
“We would hand out fliers to pediatricians and doctors,” says Halawi. “We orchestrated many awareness sessions and many of the attendees had never heard of autism before.”
In 2000, the NGO opened a school-integration program at Lycee Abdel Kader before moving to College du Sacré Coeur in Gémayzeh, where they are currently based. They also run an English-based school integration program at Doha school in Tayyouneh and a vocational center for teenagers and adults in Baabda.
All in all, the NGO has 96 students and 86 employees of whom most are specialized teachers.
“Children aged 13 and above are eligible to go to the vocational center where they can benefit from a wide array of classes ranging from manual vocation, such as cooking, to analytical domains, such as mathematics,” Halawi said.
A volunteer herself, Halawi dedicated her full time to being the president of LAS.
“I chose this path,” she said. “At LAS, we consider all children with autism our responsibility, and we try to take in as many children as we can.”
The long term goal of LAS is to help students become financially independent and capable of living alone.
“We have reached a point of saturation, and we have a long waiting list of students,” she added when discussing the financial challenges. “But we’re still pushing through; we have to.”
Welcome to “Naya,” the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment. We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. Naya is devoted to women of all generations. Naya editor, Sally Farhat: [email protected]
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