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Despite these specific boons, all three institutions operate their finances on a month-to-month basis, depending heavily on Providence. In the meantime, the core infrastructure — put in place decades ago — is crumbling.

Although brick and mortar do not last forever and these centers will indeed require serious investment soon, their collective work has contributed to an ever-expanding space in Lebanese society for the dignity and acceptance of those who were once marginalized and cast out — in particular, the deaf and the mentally ill.

For that space to continue to grow and consolidate, these institutions seek out more outside support.

Where once deaf babies were kept at home and neglected, now confident youth are able to emerge as active participants in society. Where once the mentally ill were cast out, now they can begin to find a place and contribute through workshops and community engagement.

Back in the lobby of the Father Roberts Institute for Deaf Children, Wadad Bou Dagher-Kharrat glances at her watch and cranes her neck. The children are unusually late showing up.

The noise emanating from the schoolyard explains why.

As it is the last day of the school year, class has been canceled and replaced by a full day of activities. Angie and Karl spent the morning planting seeds at the nearby park, followed by sport and games. Once they returned to the school grounds, traditional Lebanese flatbread sandwiches — called saj, after the frying pan used to make them — awaited them with a choice of water or soda.

Once all the children were seated and nibbling on their sandwiches, bongo drums made an unexpected appearance. The subdued contentment of some 30 hungry children snacking quickly gave way to an impromptu session of dabke dancing in the yard. Even the lunch lady joined in, waving her rolling pin over her head, to the delight of the children.

All that activity explains the flush on the twin’s cheeks when they finally burst through the lobby double doors to join their waiting mother.

“Here at the school, they’ve taught our kids how to assert themselves,” says Mrs. Dagher-Kharrat. “They know how to manage their lives, how to take initiative. They don’t feel different. They are not trapped by their difference.”

Karl wants to be a football player when he grows up. Angie wants to be a dermatologist. But for now, they hug their mom and arch their necks to look up at her as she speaks. Each twin has learned to use a combination of lip reading and deciphering the sound they receive from their cochlear implants to understand what their mom says as she speaks.

“It’s summertime!” she announces with a large grin.

The twins cheer and the family makes its way to the car — and to two whole months of school-free summer.

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A regular contributor to ONE, Don Duncan has covered the Middle East and Africa for The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The New York Times and Agence France Presse.



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