BEIRUT: Several thousand people rallied outside the Social Affairs Ministry in Adlieh Tuesday to protest against funding problems in the disabled care sector which have forced the majority of centers to cease operations in recent days.
The crowd, made up largely of disabled children, their families and workers in the sector, cheered as they listened to speeches from the heads of several non-governmental organizations, as well as from Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour and three MPs.
“We do not need sympathy from anyone, we just need our rights,” said Fadia Safi, the CEO of NGO Sesobel, which works for children with both physical and mental disabilities.
Abu Faour reiterated his support for the NGOs and said he had sent a letter to Prime Minister Najib Mikati ahead of Wednesday’s Cabinet session, urging him to raise the prices set by the government for services provided by disabled care centers.
“I called the prime minister, the finance minster and we agreed that I will draft an official letter which I will present to the Cabinet tomorrow in a way to ensure payments to the institutions according to 2011 price list,” he said.
For several years, NGOs have been warning of the dire straits of the sector’s finances, which are provided by the government according to prices set by a committee of six ministries.
Though they are legally required to meet yearly, the committee did not set any prices between 2004 and 2011, and the 2011 prices are yet to be implemented. The government currently only pays 60 percent of the 2004 prices.
Echoing slogans on some of the banners held by protesters which read “For those sitting on the chairs of power, come and try our chairs,” Abu Faour said: “The chairs that these people are sitting in are much better than those the ministers are sitting in.”
Attending the protest was 14-year-old Ajmi, who is blind and usually a residential student at the Anhadi school for the deaf and blind, but for the past 10 days has been at home. With exams coming up, he is concerned about losing out on crucial study time.
“I am participating today to advocate for our rights,” he said.
Many attendees of the protest felt the government was not doing what it should to protect some of the most vulnerable in Lebanon.
“I hope that the government doesn’t treat the disabled as badly as it treats other segments of the society,” said Lina Osman, who was attending in support of her brother, a student at a school for the disabled.
“A week ago they sent us a letter saying that children can no longer go to their schools,” she said. “Suddenly, he could not attend school and his personality started to be affected.”
The protest was also attended by MP Bilal Farhat, who said he understood the concerns of those at the protest, speaking of his experiences caring for his adopted disabled son.