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GOOD PEOPLE GOOD WORKS Al-Manarah: Nazareth’s Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired - P1/2 (In Arabic)    
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Today’s Good People, Good Works will be presented in Arabic and English, with subtitles in Arabic, Aulacese (Vietnamese), Chinese, English, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Mongolian, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Thai.

Welcome, cherished viewers, to this week’s edition of Good People, Good Works, the first in a two-part series featuring the Nazareth-based non-profit organization Al-Manarah – Association for the Advancement of persons with disabilities in the Arab Society in Israel or “Al-Manarah” for short.

Al-Manarah provides assistance to approximately 6,000 blind and visually impaired Arabs living in Israel. Founded in 2005 by Abbass Abbass, Al-Manarah’s mission is to encourage clients to integrate themselves into the community, know their rights and gain access to governmental resources and services.

Let’s now hear from Mr. Abbass, the group’s current director, about the significance of the name “Al-Manarah.”

Al-Manarah means “Lighthouse” in Arabic. We named it this name because we want Al-Manarah to be the guide, to lead the people with visual disabilities to what we call the “safe coast.” Symbolically, they are in the sea, and they are facing many, many, many, many challenges, and we want to help them to go to the safe coast. But in addition, we want also to lead the whole society, especially the Arab society, to see the people with visual disabilities, to give them the opportunity to be included actively in society.

To help clients empower themselves and become more independent, Al-Manarah created a phone-assistance line in 2009.

Al-Manarah established the phone- assistance line, which is nationwide, which operates approximately 20 hours a week, and within that phone-assistance line, it provides information about the services and the rights for the blind and visually impaired.

I am Mahmoud Khatib and I have a visual impairment. I'm the coordinator of the Empowerment and Developing Skills project. Through this project, I guide the blind and people with visual impairment and their families. I am also the coordinator of the phone counseling assistance line, where I receive calls from the blind and people with visual impairment and all those related to them.

The phone counseling assistance line by Al-Manarah has been operating for more than two years. The main goal is to receive calls from the blind and people with visual impairment to inform them about their rights they may have with governmental institutions and in legal proceedings. That is, services that they can get from institutions as well as the (Al-Manarah) Association, in addition to psychological and social support.

In addition, it provides what you call “emotional support” because many blind and visually impaired (people) suffer from loneliness, stay at home, and they need someone to hear them, to talk to, to relieve them so the phone assistance is a great medium for them. The majority of the staff have undergone rehabilitation, and they are basically social workers.

In the first phase, the phone line operated for three days a week, three hours each time. In the second phase, it became almost operated seven days a week, by extending the number of hours. Of course, the social worker receives the call, where the dialogue lasts about 20 minutes. Through this call, the person raises the problem or asks any question. It is a kind of dialogue; if the person didn't get the answer immediately, then the social worker registers the details of that person to continue the talk later.

Since the launch of the line, one of the callers was a girl who couldn't get any education or even any vocational training. She spends most of her time in the house where she has no place to go and most of her siblings are married, so she feels lonely. She raised her problem and the circumstances she faces on the phone and became a caller almost on a weekly basis. Through the phone line, we started checking the possibilities, where she can go and activities she could participate in.

Today, this girl participates in many activities where she has gradually come out of isolation to the extent that she comes here, to the (Al-Manarah) Association, where she participates in one of its groups. Thus, she didn't feel lonely anymore, and the feelings of isolation started lessening; that is, she has become more open to the community, all thanks to our phone assistance, and the services and activities within the (Al-Manarah) Association .

However, when phone support is not enough to address an individual’s needs, one-on-one help is given at Al-Manarah.

In addition to the phone assistance, Al-Manarah has developed a service, what you would call “personal assistance,” so that the blind and visually impaired can have a face-to-face meeting with a social worker or psychologist and they get emotional support and some coaching and some empowerment. In individual meetings, I get acquainted with the person, his life and the problems he or she faces. Individual meetings are a kind of treatment, and may last for several sessions, days, months or even a full year.

Being visually-impaired since childhood, Mahmoud Khatib deeply understands his clients’ ongoing efforts to overcome life’s challenges and earnest desire to contribute to society.

Because I am blind, I also faced difficulties in my life, in various stages, in childhood, and then at school, in the teens, and then as a young (person) in the university. I know how the blind person faces difficulties and challenges in the community, and how the blind are trying to build expertise and capabilities.

So, through my own experience as a blind person and my expertise as a social worker, I see that there is a need to provide services and activities which embrace this group in trying to work with them in all phases and in various aspects of life, whether in terms of working inside home, or in terms of education, skills and being involved in society in general. This is, as I imagine, the goal of developing, enabling and encouraging the individual to be able to help himself and be active like everyone else in the community.

Al-Manarah is also producing excellent self-help material for its clients.

We believe at Al-Manarah that we don't have to just provide services. We have to empower them, and let them become self-advocates, to know their rights. So the first thing that Al-Manarah has done is produced a CD manual of the rights and services for the people with visual disabilities in Israel in Arabic language. The (Israeli) Ministry of Welfare heard about this project, and wanted to adopt it for the Jewish people with visual disabilities in the Hebrew language. So this was the first step by Al-Manarah.

Later, Al-Manarah established dozens of training groups in several issues; first of all, empowerment and leadership groups for youth, for university students, for academics and for homebound blind. Homebound blind means blind people who don't go to university.

(They) finish their school studies and stay at home helpless and they don’t have any framework to help them. So Al-Manarah established several groups. So what is very important to emphasize is that Al-Manarah is a nationwide organization. It is actually based in Nazareth. But it supports and provides services for the blind people in Arab society in the whole country, from the North to the Triangle area in the middle of Israel and to the South in the Negev area, (where) there live what you call Bedouin Arabs.

And in addition, Al-Manarah has founded the first Arab Braille and a audio library. So in our multicenter here we have a computer room and Braille printer in which we have workshops for computing for people with visual disabilities. And in addition, we produce Braille books for them. So Al-Manarah is working and has already published or produced many books for people with visual disabilities.

And this year we are planning to produce all the school books for the blind children in the Arab schools. Besides the Braille department, we have the recording studio. I will tell you my personal story, I do like to read many books, but how? I haven’t studied Braille. So how to do so? So I purchased many audio books. But all of my audio books that I study and I hear are in English.

So at Al-Manarah, we decided to produce audio books in Arabic and we are dreaming to have this small recording studio as a nucleus for a huge audio library, which can benefit all people with visual disabilities in the Arab world. In addition to producing audio books and Braille books, Al-Manarah also produces large-print books for people who have visual impairment.

In addition, Al-Manarah advocates on behalf of the people with visual disabilities. How do we do that? We do that through litigation and lobbying. For example, Al-Manarah managed to install audio-traffic lights for people with visual disabilities, for example, in Nazareth and some Arab villages. In addition, Al-Manarah is litigating on the behalf of the people with visual disabilities in order to improve accessibility for people with visual disabilities such as improving pavements, roads, buildings, publishing information in Braille or in audio, etc.

To sum up, let’s hear Mahmoud Khatib’s dream for the blind and visually impaired.

My dream is to see blind people already involved in various aspects of life. There are many blind people who reach university, or learn and enter supplementary courses. But very few of them are involved in the community, especially in terms of work.

My dream would be to translate the education and skills acquired by the blind and people with visual impairment in a form of integration in daily life at various levels, whether in terms of social aspects, like participating in social gatherings and in family events or in making a real involvement in work, meaning that institutions must accommodate these capabilities and competencies. The blind and people with visual impairment have these capabilities and competencies like everyone else.

Our heartfelt appreciation Abbass Abbass and Mahmoud Khatib as well as the staff and volunteers at Al-Manarah for passionately helping the blind and visually impaired members of your community. It is wonderful to see the loving encouragement you provide through your counseling, equipment and facilities. May Al-Manarah continue its tradition of excellence in serving its clients and reach many, many more of those needing its services in the years to come.

For more information on Al-Manarah, please visit www.AlManarah.org

Please join us again next Monday for the second and final part of our program on Al-Manarah. Thank you, caring viewers, for your presence on this episode of Good People, Good Works. May Divine Providence shower freedom on each of us in the areas of love, beauty and creativity.
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