A brave Palestinian Christian is giving new meaning to the proverb of "the blind leading the blind."
In a small learning center in East Jerusalem disabled Palestinian women are learning skills that give them confidence and hope for a productive life.
Lydia Mansour, who founded Peace Center for the Blind, has never allowed her own blindness to keep her from helping others. Mansour faces obstacles even for simple tasks like grocery shopping.
"The roads are really very, very difficult," she complained. "And they never think of blind people, at least not in East Jerusalem or the West Bank."
Miss Lydia, as her friends call her, prefers to shop in the Palestinian-controlled area where she can stretch her limited resources.
"It takes us almost an hour to get through the checkpoints," she explained. "But we can save so much if we do some shopping in the West Bank."
Mansour shops not only for herself but for three dozen students at the center. She started the educational and vocational center 30 years ago to help blind women become independent. Although she's a Christian, her students are mostly Muslims.
"I decided to give them basic education because they were not at school at all, and vocational training which meant hand-knitting, crocheting, machine knitting, and stool seating," Mansour said.
"If we hadn't started this center, many people would be left without education, without a job, without any interest perhaps in life," she added.
Kareema joined the staff after going through the school's vocational training program.
"I can say about myself that anything I ask for I can do it in the institute as if I'm in my home," she said. "They give me the permission to do everything, and I feel confidence in myself. I'm independent and I know how to do everything."
Students learn to read and write along with skills they need to take care of themselves. They create products to sell, giving them an opportunity to earn an income.
Mansour said she believes it's important to give each individual personal attention.
"We get through to each individual just up to where they need to go. Some finish university, and if not, they go to the vocational center. At least they have something to help them in the future," she added.
Mansour was born near Jerusalem and lost her sight when she was only 2 years old. But she was determined that blindness would not hold her back.
"As I grew up, if I took over something, I was always determined to do it," she said. "If I was quite convinced that this has to be, I always got through."
That same determination is now turning other lives around. One student, Muna, couldn't speak when she arrived at the center. Weeks later her family noticed a striking difference.
"We were really surprised because she was talking and understanding what she's saying," her father explained. "There was a lot of joy in the family because she also was happy that she could say things and people can understand what she's wanting and what she's trying to say."
Muna's father understands disabilities. He overcame childhood polio to earn a degree in business administration. Now his daughter is on her way to a more fruitful life as well.
There are many more women in East Jerusalem and the West Bank who could use this kind of help. The need is larger than the center's capacity, and they challenge Mansour's faith.
"I am all the time praying that the Lord will give us a building that we could do all our work under one roof," she said. "But if we do not have a building large enough, we cannot help half the people that we really mean to help."
The center has construction plans for expanding the building. But Mansour has limited sources of income and she knows that times are not good.
"I really don't know what the future is," she reflected. "I don't know what the future holds for any Palestinian. We are in a very difficult situation."
Yet Mansour is determined to keep the center's doors open.
"Everybody in life, every child has to be given a chance to prove what they can do. Some people are going to be very successful, others not," she said. "It has nothing to do with blindness at all. But I believe that everybody should be given an opportunity."