Working with students who have learning disabilities and special needs in Beirut, Mireille Chrabieh says she started asking herself questions about their lives and their futures.
She wondered if they were happy, if they had enough time to play and even if they knew how to cope with being bullied ー challenges facing all children and their families.
“Sustainability was the answer to all those questions,” she says, calling it a blueprint she has adopted for reducing inequality, promoting human rights and providing access to quality education.
For her work, the special education expert was named by the UN Global Compact as the 2021 SDG Pioneer for Innovation in Education, honoring her role as a champion of sustainability in the private sector.
Chrabieh is a co-founder and managing partner of Special Miles, also known as the S-Miles Center, in Beirut that provides educational, vocational, social and therapeutic support to students with learning difficulties and special needs.
Its work is indelibly entwined with sustainable development goals like good health, quality education, reducing inequality, promoting decent work and economic growth, she said.
“I have tried and still am trying to apply creativity and innovation to solve sustainable development challenges in the field of special education,” she says.
S-Miles’ work starts with young children, she said, whose needs change as they become adolescents, teenagers and then young adults.
As they age, they need evolving therapeutic, academic, psychological, social and emotional support, then help transitioning to college, she said, followed by career guidance, workplace skills and financial independence tools. Along the way, they learn to cope with threats like substance and sexual abuse and bullying.
“All kids with learning difficulties and special needs are talented, skilled and have a great future ahead, if we grant them the opportunity to develop their fullest potential and show their talents to the world,” Chrabieh says.
The human rights of students with learning disabilities and special needs are respected when they can receive quality education, be socially integrated, are protected from abuse and bullying, find satisfying work and enjoy life like anyone else, she said.
In practice, she works with parents facing the challenges of special needs children, trains educators to accept and nurture students with varying abilities and partners with human resources departments at companies and organizations to be inclusive in their engagement and hiring practices.
“Every single person has a gift. But they just unwrap it at a different time using different ways,” Chrabieh says. “It is our job to help them reveal their talents.
“We need to give them this opportunity and the tools to nurture their skills, unleash their potential, push them towards action and realize what they are good at and can achieve.”