This article has been published in Enabling Education 13
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Title: EENET Interview: Developing a network in the Middle East
Author: Khochen, M
Publisher: EENET
Date: 2009

EENET interview: Developing a network in the Middle East

Over the last few years, EENET’s work has been supported by a small team of volunteers. One such volunteer is Maha Khochen from Lebanon. After completing a Masters degree in Inclusive Education and Disability Studies at the Institute of Education in London, Maha applied for an internship with EENET in Manchester. In this interview she explains why she chose to volunteer for EENET, and outlines the work she has been doing.

How and when did you first find out about EENET?
In 2005, while I was still living in Lebanon, I was searching the internet for inclusive education materials and I came across EENET’s website. I was trying to find free materials that were available to read straight away. I wanted to learn more about inclusive practice – the EENET site was interesting and easy to access.

What were your first impressions of EENET’s information-sharing work?
It was obvious that EENET would be really useful for me, and for anyone who doesn’t have access to a library or other source of inclusive education materials. Often it is not easy to find materials when we live and work in countries like Lebanon. Reading is an important way of acquiring knowledge. I found the material on EENET’s website helpful during my studies. However, I found few materials about the Middle East, which highlights the need to share more information about inclusive practices in that region.

Why did you decide you wanted to volunteer for EENET?
I studied inclusive education for my Masters degree, so EENET’s work is of great interest to me. I was attracted by the fact that EENET is keen to support regional networking. Volunteering provides a good opportunity for me to join an emerging network for the Middle East and North Africa and become part of other inclusion efforts across the Arabic-speaking region. Helping to establish a network for our region is one way of making use of the experience I have gained whilst studying inclusive education.

What work are you doing during your internship with EENET?
Since I am visually impaired, I am helping to improve the visual accessibility of EENET’s global information-sharing activities. I am asking EENET’s visually impaired readers what they think about the Braille and audio materials available from EENET, so that we can improve the service we give to these readers. I’m also giving advice on making EENET’s global website more accessible for all users – for instance, ensuring that the site works well with screen readers. We are also planning to upload more audio files.

I am also supporting the establishment of a network for Arabic-speaking countries across the Middle East and North Africa with a member of EENET’s international steering group – Salma Khalidi. Salma is based in Palestine and has many years experience of teaching inclusively. My work includes helping to build a website for Arabic speakers that will offer accessible materials about inclusive practice and stimulate debate about inclusive education in the region.

I’m working from Manchester, where EENET’s global co-ordinator is supporting our work in the Middle East region. We hope to include more people and start building a strong network. Our regional network is part of EENET’s family of regional networks around the world. We will be linking with and learning from other regions.

What is your vision for the Middle East network?
I hope that we can get a lot of people involved, that we can learn more about people working in this field and encourage people to share their experiences. Sharing information is vital. People working on inclusion need to share what they have learned, otherwise the same problems will keep coming up and we will keep reinventing the wheel.

Why is helping to develop a Middle East inclusive education network so important to you?
It’s important both because of my background studying inclusive education and because of the real need in the region for more people to work towards inclusion and to be guided towards better inclusive practices. Many people need advice and support. Having gained some knowledge of inclusive education through studying and working in the UK for three years, I am passionate about dedicating my time to supporting other people who have information needs. The development of inclusive education in my region is still in the early stages, so it is the right time for a network to grow.

What message would you like to give to EENET’s readers in the Middle East region?
I would like to encourage readers to share their experiences – whether it is a story of a good or a not so good experience. Be open, share your knowledge and experience with others. Join our debates – we want to hear what you think about inclusive education in the Middle East and North Africa region. We want to debate important concepts and language issues. And we want your ideas about how we can develop a regional network that really meets the needs of education stakeholders on the ground. We are going to create a newsletter to facilitate further sharing of information between Arabic-speaking countries. Send us articles about your work or personal experiences of inclusion. We will review, edit and hopefully publish your articles, and the newsletter will be circulated across the region.

To contact Maha, email or write to her at EENET’s postal address.

Several regional and national information networks have been inspired by EENET’s approach to sharing and debating inclusive education experiences. All the networks are currently run by volunteers, and they are looking for more people to join in their activities.