How a Syrian refugee and young widow gave hope to children with disabilities in Jordan after having a son with a developmental disorder.
“I never lost hope. I kept trying until I got it right, and I am confident to say I have the knowledge needed to support my son and other children today,” said Israa Omar, a beacon of hope in the heart of Irbid, Jordan. In this city in northern Jordan, where harmony between Syrian refugees like a 28-year-old Israa and the host community is a living testament to human solidarity, Israa’s journey unfolds – a tale of resilience, empowerment, and compassion.
A Syrian refugee who arrived in Irbid in 2013, Israa faced the complexities of displacement and loss after she had to flee her hometown, Daraa, and after the tragic death of her husband, at just 18 years old, while in her last pregnancy trimester. Israa gave birth to her only son, Lutfi, in Jordan.
Lutfi suffers from Rett Syndrome, a rare developmental disorder that affects the brain’s development, leading to learning difficulties as a child. Despite this challenge, Israa was determined to provide him with the best care; he enrolled in a private special education school that caters for children facing similar challenges. Recognizing the importance of education in shaping Lutfi’s future, Israa started learning various techniques and methods to support her child to overcome his learning difficulties.
“Lutf is the sum of my journey with my son”.
The turning point in Israa’s life came with a grant from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in April 2023, facilitated by its implementing partner Jordan River Foundation. This financial assistance, alongside specialized training in establishing, launching, and running a small-scale business, was a glimmer of hope for Israa. Empowered by this support, she founded “Lutf” in summer 2023, named after her son, and meaning ‘compassion’ in Arabic. Lutf focuses on creating and selling educational games and exercises for children with learning difficulties, including those facing autism.
“It started with researching the right material to help my son in overcoming his difficulties”, said Israa. Shortly after, she began creating educational material herself to assist and encourage Lutfi in his studies. She gradually gained a solid confidence driven by her motivation to ensure her only son could realize his right to proper education.
Israa did not stop there. After a few months, she started selling educational games in the form of exercises for the brain. This way, “it is about making a meaningful impact on the lives of families who, like me, have faced the struggles of specific needs”, said Israa.
Beyond that, and ultimately, Israa hopes she can be a contributing member of the society, to give back to the Jordanian host community that welcomed her and her family over a decade ago. Resilience? Perhaps. Independence? Possibly. Agent of change? Definitely.
Lutfi’s story echoes the experiences of many other refugee children in Jordan suffering from learning difficulties. Through the efforts of organizations like UNHCR and its partners, including Noor Al Hussein Foundation, parents are supported in ensuring their children access adequate educational services.
“From tragedy to triumph, Israa’s journey emphasises the transformative power of support and opportunity”, said Zeina Jadaan, UNHCR Education Officer. “Through Israa’s initiative, she supports Jordan’s efforts – government and civil society towards inclusion and diversity in education for refugees and children with disabilities, among other vulnerable groups. Truly a whole of society approach”, concludes Zeina Jadaan.
Through Lutf, Israa secures a better future for her family and extends a helping hand to others in similar situations. Israa’s resilience and drive to make a meaningful impact represents the spirit of hope and the capacity of individuals to rise above obstacles when given the right resources and support, to give back to their communities.