Maha Khechen was born and grew up in the Southern Lebanese city of Tyre. Aged eight years old, she began to lose her sight after an accident using eye drops. The gradual deterioration means she now has very little useful vision. Despite this, she gained a degree in History from her native Lebanon and a Masters Degree from the University of London, Institute of Education.
While studying for her history degree she was able to write but unable to read back her work. She searched for ways of overcoming her increasing challenges and this led to an interest in special educational provision. She qualified as a History teacher and was very happy to get the opportunity to move to Beirut and work in a school for children with sensory impairment and language and communication disorders. It is here that she developed her skills in training visually impaired students to use information and communication technology.
She became involved with the United Nations’ Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UN-ESCWA) project in the school, helping with IT consultancy and in their website for Blind users – the Net Forum for the Blind. After several years teaching she realised that to pursue her career and interest in special educational needs, she would have to look for courses abroad. She found details about the Advanced Diploma in Special and Inclusive Education run by the Institute of Education, University of London. She received a scholarship from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office administered by the British Council and began her course.
She learned a great deal from her course but also learned from the way she was treated. She said:
“I had been thinking more about my educational needs, so it was good that their assessment included personal support – I realised they were really keen for me to enjoy my living and studying here. The British Council have experience, they have had loads of visually impaired students before, they know what they are doing.”
After completing her Advanced Diploma she went on to gain a Masters of Education in Special Education. She is now a member of the British Council’s Diversity Advisory Panel and works with Royal National Institute for the Blind. She hopes to gain more experience in the UK before taking what she has learned and applying it in less developed countries, preferably her homeland.
“I believe that the more education I gain, the better I can help myself and help others. And the more qualifications I gain, the more senior positions I can achieve. I hope after finishing my studies to have the opportunity to work with organisations which work for inclusion in the Middle East, hopefully in Lebanon, because that is my country and I know they need people who specialise in these things. And having studied here for two years I have a good knowledge about how inclusion is applied in a developed country, such as the UK. And I have quite good contacts in this field. I would like to be where I feel I am useful, like everyone. So, wherever I feel I’ll be useful – you like to benefit yourself, and benefit others.”