When we first saw the posting of this trip we were so excited. We began praying our purpose would be two fold: design a school for special needs kids and use our own special needs kids to encourage other special needs families...while learning from them too.
As time went on we began learning of the special needs culture in Lebanon. They are about where the US was 50 years ago. Most everyone with special needs kids sends their children to a special institutions during the day: one for all the CP kids, one for the Down Syndrome kids, one for the Autistic kids, etc. They rarely have their kids out in society with them and are mostly ashamed. LSESD, Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development, the group we worked with, is trying to change all of that through their SKILD (smart kids with individual learning differences) Center. They are employing Special Education Teachers, Psychologist, Speech Therapist and Occupational Therapist. They have 4 schools they are working in, at a minimal level though trying to do more, one at a much greater level and outpatient sessions at their center in the afternoon. They have a desire to have their own school, a mix of typically developed and special needs students. This new school is what Preston and the team of architects and engineers were there designing. This team of 11 worked countless hours, some nights until 2:00 am, to produce the best school for LSESD. (I will get Preston to export some renderings so I can add them to the blog.). This particular type of school is going to be one of a kind. Hopefully many will follow.
It was so encouraging to me to see a group of people who are working with such passion, in the face of many trials, to provide education and social acceptance to kids with special needs. Right now the center is seeing kids with learning disabilities and mental needs. The new school will accommodate physical needs too so those children can be added.
While we were there the government proclaimed April 22nd will be the National Day for children with Learning Difficulties. They asked the SKILD team to make all preparations for the celebration events on that day.
I also had the opportunity to tell our family story over the past three years to the SKILD staff. I always love sharing all that God has done in our life and talk about my kids... of course it was complete with pictures too. Our original plan was to share with a much bigger audience including the special education staff at the Beirut Baptist School, but God had other plans. One of the roads in front of the school was closed due to some fighting so we were not able to make it. However, we got the idea to video our presentations. This will allow everyone who was not able to see it, view it if they desire. I think this also gives the ability for many additional people to view it too, potentially reaching many more people than originally planned.
Logan, with his contagious, fun-loving attitude captured the hearts of many. He played well with everyone, encouraged the team, assisted Mrs. Jackie in her presentation and just seemed to really enjoy the trip. He was also very helpful with his brothers while his Dad was in meetings a big part of the day.
Nathan and Owen also won the hearts of everyone they met. It was a much deeper love than any of them expected. Most of the people on our team and the group from LSESD and SKILD had not spent much time around kids with special needs of their severity. God used Nathan and Owen to impact everyone in a much deeper way than anyone expected. In true God fashion, He way outdid our prayer for an impact by Nathan and Owen. By the time we finished our trip tears were shed by many, comments of how they loved Nathan and Owen were many, and a few different people also commented they want to learn even more about kids with special needs. It was fun to see the staff fighting over who got to hold them next. They really had a big impact!!!
God also used our family in our natural daily routine to impact people. We do everything with all of our boys. Nathan and Owen are right beside Logan in playing, eating, site seeing, getting hugs, etc. This is a foreign concept right now in Lebanon. The observation of our family spoke volumes to the way God intends for the family to function. We even received the comment from a Mom with a kid with learning difficulties that seeing our family has helped her feel good about her situation.
We had a wonderful opportunity to spend a morning working in an orphanage for kids who were taken away from their parents because of abuse. The children were so wonderful. They loved playing with Nathan, Owen and Logan. We played lots of games, taught them songs...and they taught us some too. We spent time sharing the gospel in each of their classrooms. The children at the orphanage embraced all of our kids and they whole heartedly embraced them too.
We are looking forward to continuing to develop our relationship even deeper with our new friends in Lebanon. We hope to return to see the opening of the new school.