By Daniella Daou

For most young people, finishing high school is just another milestone to add on the wall of family pictures. You likely had the chance to enroll in university to complete a degree in your favorite discipline. Then, all the sleepless nights of studying and research were forgotten the moment you held your new degree. But let us imagine for a second that all of this is not possible.

You could not finish high school, and you were not welcomed into a university program, simply because you learn differently. Do you feel the disappointment?

This is how hundreds of young men and women with cognitive challenges feel in Lebanon, where no paths exist for them to move forward in education or social life after 9th grade. If they cannot cope with the curriculum, they leave school at the age of 16 years old with nowhere to go and nothing else to learn.

SKILD (Smart Kids with Learning Differences) has been active in K-12 schools in Lebanon since 2011, establishing special education departments and accompanying children with learning difficulties. As the children we’ve supported through the years become young adults and prepare to finish their school level education, the next natural frontier was to ensure a continuum of care.

In collaboration with Notre Dame University (NDU) in Lebanon and Lipscomb University in the US, SKILD established the IDEAL Program: a two-year certificate program for youth whose learning difficulties prevent them from enrolling in regular classes. The program provides its learners with internship opportunities to enhance their career skills, in addition to strengthening their academic abilities and life and social skills. By the end of the two years, each learner will have employment capabilities, a placement at a company, and life-long skills that will transform them into independent productive citizens.

This program is a dream come true to many parents who never imagined dropping off their children at college. It is also a new milestone in special education in Lebanon as the first program of its kind to move the inclusion of individuals with special needs from the school to the university level.

In this first year, we were cautiously optimistic about enrollment – aiming for 5 to 8 students. To our surprise, 9 were accepted into the program!

They have taken a courageous first step. Will you pray now that their adjustment would be smooth, that they feel understood by their classmates, and that they would be paired with encouraging peer mentors?

Please also pray for the program, educators, and staff as the first semester starts.

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