For my volunteer component I had originally wanted to do something with teaching. Since my degree involves a TESOL degree and I do at some point want to teach abroad I figured I could get an idea of what it might be like to teach in a foreign country. It eventually got hard to find an opportunity to do so with the changes in social scheduling that happen during Ramadan and I couldn’t find a class to teach that didn’t interfere with my own classes. So I helped an organization recruit teachers to teach in Saudi Arabia for a while until I heard that the organization I was volunteering with came across the opportunity to create a center for Autistic children.
The organization received funds to create a center for Autistic children and I was lucky enough to be part of the initial research that took place. There are several challenges in place for the center to successfully start-up. The cultural perspective of mental illness in the Middle East is very different from those here in the West. There is a strong stigma in the Middle East towards mental illness. At times the parents of children with mental illness will believe that it is the result of their sins in the past. These particular issues are less prevalent in West Amman which is quickly developing but in East Amman such may be the case.
There are Institutions in place that help with the establishment of Autism centers that face unique challenges all over the world. They provide guidance in the hiring and help establish a foundation for a successful institution. The Global Autism Project’s mission is as follows:
“To build local capacity to provide services to individuals with autism in under-served communities worldwide, and to address the lack of resources and extremely limited understanding of autism that plagues many under-served populations, we partner with autism centers established by local individuals.”
Of course the organization I was working with has a long way to go but there have already been several stories in the Middle East of successful autism centers, including one in Amman! At times I was slightly frustrated that I wouldn’t be in Amman to see the opening of the center but there’s no reason I wouldn’t be able to come back later to help!