REFIA ARI – Woman of the Year 2003
Pioneer of Special Needs Education for disabled children in KKTC Cyprus
Refia Ari received the Woman of the Year award in 2003 of the Women’s Studies & Education Centre, Eastern Mediterranean University (EMU), KKTC/TRNC-Cyprus. She enabled special needs education for disabled children, children’s disability support for their parents and disabilities careres.
"Mrs. Refia (Ari) has created for .. children a world that becomes more beautiful every day"
(Süleyman Ergüçlü, News Director, Bayrak Radio-Television -rtd ~Yaþamýn Ýçinden BRTK, Cyprus-KKTC)
This woman’s nation also has its share of disabled children. But Cyprus-KKTC had no facilities for children with disabilities. Neither for their care, nor for their well being and education. Nor for the welfare and educational support needs of their parents. Special needs education did not exist for children with disabilities. Parents of disabled children had no education on how to cope. Children with mental or physical handicaps simply existed and suffered.
Refia Ari changed that for the disabled of Cyprus-KKTC. Her Successful Woman of the Year Award by the Eastern Mediterranean University’s Women’s Studies and Education Centre was for her pioneering works which made that change possible. Especially for children with disabilities and the parents of handicapped children.
While Cyprus is in, both, the British Commonwealth and the European Union, and, indeed, also in the European Convention on Human Rights, concerns were, as of the United Nations, mostly with its inter-communal conflict, and neither local nor foreign aid existed for the disabled men and women and children of Cyprus-KKTC -not even an official disability register as a formal record of them. An initiative in the form a nursery school and centre for 20 disabled children and the interest of two primary schools in conjunction with the Education and Health Ministries were considered hopeless by parents. This woman’s efforts brought disabled children’s parents hope and help.
(Refia Ari was born on 3 February 1961 in Paphos -Cyprus, of parents Ozkan and Ayten Kamil -bakers. She is an International Affairs and Relations graduate of the Middle Eastern Technical University [Orta Doðu Teknik Üniversitesi ODTÜ] -Turkey; she worked in the Prime Minister’s Press Office -Cyprus-KKTC, and later part-time for a High Commission to Cyprus. In 2003 the Women’s Studies & Education Centre of Doðu Akdeniz Ünüversýtesi [EMU -]elected Refia Arý for the Woman of the Year Award for her works which pioneered special needs education for disabled children. She is married to Engin Ari [Businessman of the Year 1999 and a founder of the Young Businessmen’s Association] -they have two sons [Anil -a high school winner of various academic prizes; and, named after his grandfather Orhan Seyfi Ari with contributions with his wife Suzan Ari to education, younger Orhan with Downs Syndrome].)
She attended courses on children’s physical and mental disorders in England, UK. She conducted considerable research on and established contact with various international disabled children’s associations and traced and locally organised the parents of handicapped children. She fund raised for children with disabilities and their parents, and founded with them in 1999 the Association for Children in Need of Special Education which researched and offered advice and guidance to, especially women, parents of disabled children and organised events and activities to raise public awareness of the needs of handicapped children and their carers in Cyprus-KKTC.
The different administrative preferences of the authorities for that Association gave rise to parent groups verging on falling out and apart and in 2002 Refia Ari was elected President of the (renamed) Special Needs Education Association of Cyprus-KKTC to keep them together.
Refia Ari’s efforts and leadership skills then brought the Turkish Cypriot parents together with Greek Cypriot parents of handicapped children for counselling, parenting for social skills and behaviour management education, especially for women parents, in how to cope with and care for disabled children in lectures and seminars jointly arranged to be extended to them and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
She petitioned politicians in Cyprus-KKTC for publicly funded help and support for the disabled. She succeeded. In 2006 The Council of State of KKTC/TRNC-Cyprus published its decision for its Ministry of Education and Culture with study and research to introduce special education provisions catering also for the special needs of disabled children up the age of 18, and she was included in its committee for the re-organisation of the educational system which should also ease the integration into society of disabled children by their education in ordinary schools.
Refia Ari, with her exceptional leadership qualities and extraordinary organising skills having worked wonders for the handicapped children of Cyprus-KKTC, is reported in the media to be pursuing her vision to get official help, support and education extended also to disabled adults.
Her voluntary works with various disability organisations and vision for the disabled, as she stated to the BRTK, is based on Refia Ari’s philosophy that -translated "We have advantages in life and disadvantages; some of us can’t run -but if one’s hand is held one can at least walk."