The Sadr Foundation: Chronicling stories of hope
By Elian El-Khamissi | Tuesday, 03.13.2012, 05:27 AM

Sadr Foundation Chairwoman Rabab Sadr (C) and Lebanese Maronite Christian Patriarch Bechara Rai pose with young students on Rai’s recent trip. The foundation welcomes orphans of all backgrounds.
Jihad’s eyes filled up with tears as he bragged about his child’s achievements at Early Childhood Intervention, Lebanon (ECIL).  Twenty-seven month old Mohamad speaks, responds, scribbles, and plays with his siblings now, after suffering a mysterious abnormal eye injury that would greatly hinder him from the time he was born.  He went through a series of special teachers who could not overcome his challenge.  At 22 months old, he was finally diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder.  
The courageous little boy was not a happy camper when he first came in to the center.  ECIL coordinator Bassema Anani said:  “When he first started coming here, he would hold on to his father tightly whenever the therapists called on him, refusing to go with them.  Then, after a couple of weeks, he got used to them and comfortably started roaming around the clinic, interacting with them.”  Mohamad has been receiving speech and psycho-motor therapy at ECIL for the past five months.  His father Jihad says the center means “hope” for every family.  
With a lot of joy, Zaynab, the mother of three-and-a-half year old Batoul, also tells her story.  Her innocent little girl was diagnosed with autistic behavior two years ago.  Desperate about getting the help needed and being able to pay for it, Zaynab searched through all autism clinics in Lebanon, before reaching ECIL, only to find them to be too expensive, inconvenient, or unsuitable.  “The clinic in Chiah is way more expensive than ECIL, and my daughter would have to be with other kids who also have disorders.  That’s not a suitable environment for a kid who imitates everything.  ECIL has everything- a social worker, a speech and language therapist, a psycho-motor therapist, a physical therapist, and counseling for the parents.   It even provides home visitors who teach you how to act with your child.  It’s great.”  
Modeled after the American Oakwood Foundation and British Portage Service, ECIL is the first center of early childhood intervention in Lebanon.  It is dedicated to accompany the families of children zero to three years old who have or are at risk of facing developmental delays.  
ECIL Director and Educational Psychologist Maliha El Sadr Charafeddine, enthusiastically introduced the center, stressing that the clinic welcomes everyone, of all backgrounds, with the goal of “giving children a chance to develop their knowledge and culture.”  
Inside the new ECIL medical facility in Beirut, the only one of its kind in Lebanon.
Carrying her father Sayyed Moussa Sadr’s legacy, Maliha added:  “We will never turn anyone down.  If they can’t afford it, our social worker can study their case and provide them with assistance.  Services at the clinic are very costly, and there isn’t much funding, however, ECIL is working on opening a pre-school for working parents to cover future expenses.  We also have fundraising plans and plan to request support from the Lebanese Ministry of Health.  As for now, Sadr Foundation has been funding us.”    
“Sadr Foundation (which has an office in Dearborn) was originally established in 1963 when Imam Moussa Sadr wanted to educate the public and saw that it had to start with educating  women,”  said Rabab Sadr, Sayyed Moussa Sadr’s sister and Sadr Foundation Chairwoman.  “We were ten girls and I was honored to be in charge of them.  First, the foundation offered sewing lessons, and then additional foundations like day care, elementary school, nursing schools, technical schools, and other schools emerged.”    
Rabab’s mission did not end there.  Despite war obstacles that halted the institutions and increased their responsibilities with the increasing number of martyrs’ children as orphans, she continued fulfilling her tasks compassionately, focusing on the aspect of the human in her approach, regardless of cultural or religious background.  “We used to have Christian students in our institutions up until the civil war.  Then we had only Shia's, who were the majority in South Lebanon.  Now, around two years ago, we started getting some Christian students,” she said.  “All our work is centered on the human being, who is polite, faithful, and patriotic, for the sake of humanity, respect for all religions and cultures, because each religion carries a culture, and when we coexist, we are enriched by each other’s culture.”  
Going across the globe within and between wars, she is always searching for new ways to advance and develop her institutions, especially when it comes to kids.  “In our institutions, we really focus on kids’ emotions.  We have to work on those who have home problems, tackle their issues through in school counseling, to minimize the negative effects on them.  We also organize many in-school bonding activities like monthly birthdays, where we hold a monthly birthday party for all students born in a certain month,” Rabab said.    
Social activities and academics run parallel at the foundations where students go on field trips to watch demonstrations of everything they learn about.  However, Rabab said that the institutions face major challenges when it comes to finding common ground with the parents and when the country goes into political turmoil.  “Kids react to their home situations.  If they don’t have a stable home environment, we really suffer with them.  But love does wonders,” she added with a silent smile.  
Tackling all factors of a student’s life with the most advanced educational and psychological techniques has put the Sadr Foundation ahead of many top schools in Lebanon.  However, the goodwill institutions still face many economic obstacles that are stalling their future plans of expansion.  “We do not get any funding from the Lebanese government or any other government.  We get donations from the people who believe in our cause,” said Rabab.  “We are gathering donations and saving up to buy a piece of land for a future project that we’re hoping would make us good money.  It’s going to be an educational and cultural complex that would include an elementary, middle, and secondary school, as well as a gym and a university in a rich area in Lebanon, upon request be the elite.  We want to gather money from the rich to circulate it and help the poor.” 

By Elian El-Khamissi

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