John Paul II Foundation / Magazine / "This is how I met Effetà". Neuropsychiatrist Lucia Russi and the missions in Palestine.

"This is how I met Effetà". Neuropsychiatrist Lucia Russi and the missions in Palestine.

by Lucia Russi

On a day in May, about ten years ago, I met with Effeta and the John Paul II Foundation. They had asked me for an availability for Bethlehem, a child neuropsychiatrist was needed. I felt chosen and accepted. On the other side of the phone and then live, on that occasion and constantly to this day, for the Foundation was Rita Carbone, who in a few hours introduced me to the goals and participants. She put such enthusiasm into her saying that one could not give up or question, I met the mission participants at the gate at Fiumicino at 9:30 pm. The trip allowed me to understand why a child neuropsychiatrist was going to Bethlehem, but actually I-we were going to Effeta, since a previous mission had raised questions that needed clarification...

But what was Effeta? Effeta is a unique reality in Palestine, a sunny and disputed land, Effeta is a place without religious-economic-health discrimination, a place where disability is perceived and experienced as a diversity, albeit with many many difficulties. Effeta is a school where people are taught to speak, a place where very young mothers clutching their babies to their breasts, bring those babies, who do not respond to their calling, to visit in the most elegant dress they have. This is how Effeta presented itself when Sister Rania, Sister Piera and the other Dorothean Sisters welcomed us with the helpfulness and friendliness of those who need support but do not know how to ask for it or what to ask for. Our team consisted of an otolaryngologist-audiologist, an audiometrist, a speech therapist and myself. I spent that first mission cognitively assessing Effeta's 170 pupils trying to understand and answer the question posed to me, could the developmental difficulties be attributable to disorders associated with deafness or perhaps to an educational approach not usable for deaf individuals. This led to asking the Foundation's willingness to supplement the six-month missions with shared, guided pedagogical training of teaching staff in conjunction with psychoeducational counceling to parents and genetic assessments.

Periodic missions also showed the need to make the facility more "up to date" by equipping the existing outpatient clinic with an audiometric booth and providing more modern speech therapy training. Each successive mission led us to reflect on the possibility of growth, and thus we found that support for surgical training of cochlear implants had to be planned in proxemia of the institute, so after the pedagogical branch started the surgical one that brought us closer to BASR, Beit Jala Hospital, and that had its climax in the presence of Franco Trabalzini, who was already an active part of the mission through his ENT-audiology-clinical colleagues.

We were already a team, and with this intense experience the Foundation in 2014 participated in the Italian Cooperation's call for proposals at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and won it. In the following years, the Foundation would win another call for proposals to continue supporting hearing-impaired children and youth in Palestine. Palestinian surgeon colleagues were hosted in Italy to share diagnostic and clinical-surgical modalities. While the painstaking work in Bethlehem by Rita and all the participants in the missions and projects as they were implemented allowed for collaboration with the Palestinian Ministry of Health. A new visibility began in small steps for Effeta, no longer only as a school-didactic-pedagogical institution, but also as a health institution.

An important part of the project was the possibility of hearing screening of those born in Bethlehem at some birth points, with follow-up. Within the institute the director Sister Piera, the superior Sister Rania had been a great support, later continued by Sister Lara. The air one breathes at Effeta remains unchanged, one of great trustworthiness and welcome, in the half-light of the living room where coffee is sipped in beautiful, very thin ceramic cups that are so much like a "grandmother's living room" with the right affective warmth that one already anticipates as one sets out from the grotto of the Nativity to Effeta, crossing the colorful market and glimpsing beyond the gates the long procession of buses and cars that take the children to school. That procession brings to life the trust and hope that families place in Effeta: an almost magical place that gives tools for speech, but most of all for life to those children elsewhere discriminated against for not feeling. It was with joy that we participated in the handing over of the first diplomas and the start of the university pathways.

How much more Effeta could say or do, how much could be planned and facilitated starting from a mixed school between hearing and deaf...and more. All this makes Effeta a 50-year young entity, to which we, who feel part of it, can only maiora... 

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