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Reference ID 06JEDDAH300 (original text)
SubjectJEDDAH: BRINGING HOPE TO EXCEPTIONAL NEEDS CHILDREN
OriginConsulate Jeddah
ClassificationUNCLASSIFIED
ReleasedAug 30, 2011 01:44
CreatedApr 17, 2006 13:16
VZCZCXYZ0003
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHJI #0300/01 1071316
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 171316Z APR 06
FM AMCONSUL JEDDAH
TO RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 1346
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 1424
RUEHRH/AMEMBASSY RIYADH PRIORITY 6414
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9064
INFO RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY UNCLAS JEDDAH 000300 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
RIYADH, PLEASE PASS TO DHAHRAN; PARIS FOR ZEYA; LONDON FOR 
TSOU; DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/ARP 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS:        
SUBJECT: JEDDAH: BRINGING HOPE TO EXCEPTIONAL NEEDS CHILDREN 
 
 1. (U) SUMMARY. The Consul General and Pol/Econ Chief visited 
the Hope Center for Exceptional Needs in Jeddah on April 12. 
The Center is Saudi Arabia's first multilingual school for 
rehabilitating disabled children whose plight is often 
ignored by the larger society.  After a tour of the 
facilities, the Center's Founder and Director, Uzma Raheem 
Hussain, discussed the school's operations and future with 
the CG.  Founded in 1999, the Hope Center is unique in that 
it accepts students regardless of race, religion, gender, 
national origin, or the number of disabilities a student has. 
 While the school has served as many as fifty students at one 
time, ranging in age from ten months to twenty-one years, 
limited resources have forced it to reduce its student 
population.  The Hope Center is under the authority of the 
Ministry of Social Affairs and has obtained support from 
several major corporations, expatriates, and influential 
members of the Saudi community, including the Governor of 
Jeddah.  In addition to working with disabled children, the 
Hope Center works to identify and assess disabilities and 
educate parents about how best to help their children develop 
into independent adults.  END SUMMARY. 
 
"IT IS THE ABILITY THAT COUNTS" 
 
 2. (U) On April 12, the Consul General and Pol/Econ Chief 
visited the Hope Center for Exceptional Needs in Jeddah. 
After a tour of the facilities, the Center's Founder and 
Director, Uzma Raheem Hussain, discussed the school's 
history, operations, and future with the CG.  The Center, 
whose motto is "It is the Ability that Counts", is Saudi 
Arabia's first multilingual school for rehabilitating 
disabled children.  It is unique in that it accepts students 
without regard to race, religion or gender, and regardless of 
the number of disabilities a student has.  It is also unique 
in that it uses behavior modification techniques to deal with 
behavioral problems, a key reason why Saudi schools for the 
disabled reject many applicants.  While the school has served 
as many as fifty students at one time, limited resources has 
forced it to reduce its student population.  Currently, more 
than fifty students accepted to the school are on a waiting 
list to enter.  Students range in age from ten months to 
twenty-one years and represent diverse backgrounds: 35% are 
Saudi (up from 5% after a concerted campaign to enroll Saudi 
children); 30% are Asian; 5% are Western European; 5% are 
African, and the remaining 25% are non-Saudi Arabs. 
 
THE PLIGHT OF DISABLED CHILDREN 
 
 3. (U) The plight of disabled children is a problem that is 
largely ignored, or often hidden, in Saudi Arabia.  The Hope 
Center Director noted that the incidence of birth defects and 
congenital diabetes is high in Saudi Arabia.  This is likely 
the result of a historically high prevalence of 
consanguineous marriage.  Other factors that contribute to 
the high rate of birth defects include pollution and poor 
health care, which affect poorer expatriate communities to a 
much greater degree than Saudis.  For cultural reasons, 
disabilities are not acknowledged by the community.  The 
Center Director informed Pol/Econ Chief that some parents of 
disabled children do not even inform their immediate family 
members that their child is disabled.  Only in recent years 
has the Saudi government established schools and facilities 
to treat disabilities, and even then they are not readily 
open to the large expatriate community.  Saudi schools will 
not admit non-Saudi students, and even though some effort has 
been made recently to provide employment for the disabled, 
those companies will not employ disabled non-Saudis.  The 
Center Director added that the social pressures of caring for 
a disabled child have very serious effects on Saudi families. 
 Although she had not heard of disabilities leading to 
suicide or homicide, she said that the incidence of divorce 
among the parents of disabled children is very high.  The 
Director remarked that frequently fathers will "just leave in 
the night and never return." 
 
HOPE'S HISTORY, PRESENT, & FUTURE 
 
 4. (U) The Hope Center was founded in 1999 in a Jeddah 
apartment with one volunteer and nine students at the request 
of a group of parents of disabled students.  In 2003 the 
Center moved to its present location, a villa converted into 
a school.  Interestingly, it was licensed under the authority 
of the Ministry of Social Affairs (MSA) instead of the 
Ministry of Education, thus exempting the school from the 
requirement to provide mandatory Islamic instruction. 
Nonetheless, the Hope Center continued to offer Islamic 
studies as an option to Muslim students.  Also in 2003, the 
school was named by the MSA as one of the top 14 
"standardized" schools for the disabled in the Kingdom. 
(NOTE: Center staff noted that this honor raised their 
concerns about the quality of other disabled schools in the 
Kingdom.)  By 2004 the school had over fifty students 
enrolled, but resource limitations caused them to reduce the 
number of students it could accommodate.  Currently, the 
Center is in a dispute with its landlord who is threatening 
to evict them.  The Director reported that the landlord has 
resorted to cutting off their telephone lines, a worrisome 
development considering the medical conditions afflicting 
many of the children. 
 
 5. (U) The Hope Center charges SR 20,000 per year per 
student.  However, 63% of the students receive sponsorships 
which can cover as much as 85% of the tuition costs.  Aid 
recipients are first given a needs test and vetted before 
they receive said scholarships.  The Jeddah Chamber of 
Commerce and Industry (JCCI) assists the Center in 
determining a parent's income and financial need.  The school 
has historically obtained support from influential members of 
the community, including the Governor of Jeddah.  In 
addition, it has seen several major corporations and a host 
of philanthropic expatriates donate money to provide 
scholarships to needy students.  The Hope Center recently 
requested that AmConGen Jeddah assist them with overcoming 
bureaucratic and social obstacles to acquiring land for a new 
center. 
 
 6. (U) The Hope Center's primary focus is disabled children's 
academic development. Students are grouped by ability, 
though, in deference to the Saudi authorities, males and 
females are schooled separately after the age of 12.  The 
instructors noted that in mathematics classes, the females 
typically have better skills.  Teachers have also found that 
the Center's diverse group of students are capable of working 
in multiple languages and so instruction is provided in 
English, Arabic, and Urdu.  The Center's audio and visual 
aids are in English and are procured from the United States, 
the best place to get such materials, according to the 
Center's Director.  Her sister, a medical doctor in 
Louisiana, assists her in obtaining said materials for the 
school. 
 
 7. (U) These aids are used throughout the school's six-step 
academic program:  1) Early Intervention: Parents are 
counseled on how to cope with their emotions on having a 
child with special needs and about why early intervention is 
important; 2) Holding Group: Children develop their skills in 
the areas of cognition, self-help, socialization, and speech 
and language development; 3) Pre-School: Children are 
introduced to pre-academic skills such as pre-writing and 
reading; 4) Mainstream Education: Students begin following 
the American Board of Education standard curriculum in 
reading, writing, and math; 5) Vocational Training: Children 
as young as three learn arts and crafts, domestic skills, 
computer science, and dramatics; and, 6) Workshop Training: 
Students gain skills in specialized vocations such as 
calligraphy, candle-making, tailoring, and basic accounting. 
The Center has developed training internships with several 
local colleges, including Dar-al-Hikma and Effat College. 
All of their internships are free to the student in contrast 
to other centers which charge a fee. 
 
 8. (U) In addition to the academic portion of its work, the 
Hope Center also provides advice and referrals on medical 
issues and employs a clinical psychologist for both the 
students and their families.  Staff also help screen, 
identify, and assess students' disabilities and train medical 
staff to recognize disabilities and deploy early intervention 
techniques.  Parents of disabled students are encouraged to 
participate in the Center's periodic workshops that teach 
them to help their children grow and develop into independent 
adults.  In the coming months, the Center's Director is 
planning to host a forum on sexual abuse of the disabled, a 
subject previously un-broached in the Kingdom.  Participants 
will consider both abuse by family members, which 
historically accounts for 71% of abuse cases, and abuse by 
others.  Finally, Hope Center staff are consulted by lawyers 
involved in drafting the proposed Saudi law dealing with the 
disabled.  (NOTE: Center staff member Lisa Robinson 
specifically requested assistance from AmConGen Jeddah in 
identifying an American lawyer with expertise in disability 
laws.) 
 
ABDULLAH'S STORY 
 
 9. (U) By coincidence on the day of the CG's visit, "Arab 
News", the Jeddah-based English-language journal, printed a 
front page story about Abdullah, a disabled three-year old 
child who had been abandoned by his family.  His father's 
entire family refused to acknowledge that the child existed, 
creating a particularly difficult problem for those who 
treated and cared for him.  Medical officials wished to 
transfer Abdullah to a rehabilitation center in Taif, but 
Saudi law demanded that the father consent to the transfer. 
This required the father to acknowledge the child as his own 
and place him on his identification card.  Because the father 
refused, Abdullah has languished for three years in the 
nursery unit of the King Abdulaziz University Hospital in 
Jeddah.  The hospital's administrative coordinator was quoted 
in the article as saying, "This is not a healthy environment 
for a growing child. Only food, vaccines and medications that 
he needs are given to him." 
 
MEDIA REACTION TO CG'S VISIT 
 
 10. (U) On April 14 and 15, three Saudi-based newspapers 
printed articles about the CG's visit to the Hope Center. 
The newspapers included "Al Nadwa", "Al Sharq Al Awsat", and 
"Al Watan".  Reaction was positive and reported that the CG 
was greeted by Director Usma Raheem Hussain, who explained 
the Center's mission, history, successes, and upcoming 
challenges.  The CG was quoted as saying, "I believe this 
school is extremely beneficial for the Jeddah community. I 
found everyone to be so enthusiastic and joyful - both the 
amazing children and their excellent teachers. The Center 
provides a unique opportunity for exceptional children, both 
Saudis and non-Saudis, to learn together in a fun, 
multi-lingual environment." 
Gfoeller
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