Arab Today, arab today special for all the right reasons
Last Updated : GMT 08:07:11
Arab Today, arab today
Arab Today, arab today

Special for all the right reasons

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today Special for all the right reasons

London - Arabstoday

The sound of laughter can be heard long before you reach the gate of Senses Residential and Day Care for Special Needs, just off Al Wasl Road. Inside the centre, groups of children are warming up, dancing, playing and chatting as they wait to take part in the centre\'s Special Sports Day. The centre provides an engaging learning environment for children and young adults in Dubai who have severe developmental and physical disabilities. Surrounded by parents, staff and volunteers, the children are all smiling; clearly excited to finally take part in the event they\'ve been looking forward to for weeks. There\'s a sudden hush as six children line up for a running race. Once it starts, the other children cheer them on, and the moment the winner crosses the finish line, his friends gather around him to congratulate him. Looking on proudly from the sidelines is Lina Owies, the executive manager of Senses. She\'s standing alone for less than a minute before Afra (all students\' names have been changed on request), a 25-year-old autistic woman, rushes up to put her arms around her. Lina greets her with a cuddle. \"Afra has to have a hug every time she sees me!\" Lina says. \"She comes to my office every day.\" Afra is just the first of many. Just a few steps away is ten-year-old Yahya, who suffers from cerebral palsy. An avid basketball fan, each time he dunks the ball in the hoop from his wheelchair, he turns to Lina and grins. Fourteen-year-old Ahmad, who has Down\'s Syndrome, races up to Lina and demands a kiss on the cheek because he\'s just won a race. Lina happily obliges.   Special for all the right reasons Sports days, adventures at Wild Wadi, school and part-time jobs - the children and young adults at Senses Residential and Day Care for Special Needs do it all. Shiva Kumar Thekkepat visits the centre to find out more The sound of laughter can be heard long before you reach the gate of Senses Residential and Day Care for Special Needs, just off Al Wasl Road. Inside the centre, groups of children are warming up, dancing, playing and chatting as they wait to take part in the centre\'s Special Sports Day. The centre provides an engaging learning environment for children and young adults in Dubai who have severe developmental and physical disabilities. Surrounded by parents, staff and volunteers, the children are all smiling; clearly excited to finally take part in the event they\'ve been looking forward to for weeks. There\'s a sudden hush as six children line up for a running race. Once it starts, the other children cheer them on, and the moment the winner crosses the finish line, his friends gather around him to congratulate him. Looking on proudly from the sidelines is Lina Owies, the executive manager of Senses. She\'s standing alone for less than a minute before Afra (all students\' names have been changed on request), a 25-year-old autistic woman, rushes up to put her arms around her. Lina greets her with a cuddle. \"Afra has to have a hug every time she sees me!\" Lina says. \"She comes to my office every day.\" Afra is just the first of many. Just a few steps away is ten-year-old Yahya, who suffers from cerebral palsy. An avid basketball fan, each time he dunks the ball in the hoop from his wheelchair, he turns to Lina and grins. Fourteen-year-old Ahmad, who has Down\'s Syndrome, races up to Lina and demands a kiss on the cheek because he\'s just won a race. Lina happily obliges. \"The reason we have these Special Sports Days for the children is because it makes them feel really wanted,\" she says. Lina is much like a mother figure to the children, many of who are severely challenged and some of who are orphans. She beams, proudto be watching them have a good time. \"We organise many activities for the kids regularly as we believe in trying to integrate them into the mainstream,\" adds Lina. \"We believe they need to meet and interact with people so that they can grow up as part of the society. We take them out often - to malls, the beach, the Modhesh Fun City, Wild Wadi... - and we also encourage people to come to our school to interact with them,\" she says. Senses was started in 2004 by Nadia Khalil Al Sayegh an Emirati, who used to work at the Ministry of Social Affairs. \"She set it up after she realised there was a need for a school to take care of very severe cases of special needs children,\" says Lina. \"Many of the children have only one parent, and they find it extremely difficult to take care of the child because they need extra special care,\" she says. \"Some are orphans who have been handed over to us by hospitals, and all require regular physiotherapy sessions. Most of them suffer from cerebral palsy and move around in wheelchairs aided by volunteers.\" Some of the children and young adults with special needs were constantly going between their homes and a therapy centre. This caused the children great discomfort as it often involved travelling by public transportation from the home to the centre, which could be far away. The daily commute and therapy sessions were both a sizeable financial burden for parents, and many couldn\'t afford to pay. But thanks to the centre, the children and young adults have a place to stay and undergo therapy, and for those who can\'t afford to pay, the centre offers free treatment. In the beginning Nadia ran the place with her own funds, and as it began to grow organisations such as the Rotaract Club of Jumeirah started helping. The members of the Rotaract Club also volunteer at the centre. Several generous individuals and corporations donate money and things like clothes for school uniforms, furniture and educational supplies. The school provides 24-hour professional nursing, therapeutic and emotional care for young people with special needs, and also provides much-needed support for families. The centre started off with just a handful of children attending, and it now helps 83 students, 46 of whom are residents. \"All of them are given five healthy meals every day, are provided nursing care, and are encouraged to engage in various physical and mental activities,\" Lina says. The centre is a cosmopolitan mix and students come from 19 different countries. Families are charged depending on their financial situation. \"Eighty-six per cent of the students don\'t pay any fee. The rest pay between Dh500 and Dh1,000 a month, which includes fees for transportation and food,\" says Lina. Some children are sponsored by individuals or clubs in the community, but we are trying get more sponsors because our plan is not to charge parents for the services we offer.\" Care and support from volunteers Several family members of the students also volunteer for the various activities organised by the centre. Stanley, who suffers from Down\'s Syndrome, has his parents Abraham and Eliama Verghese, with him. \"Since both of us are working and we have two younger children in school, we have to leave Stanley here during the day,\" says Abraham, 50. \"It\'s a great help for parents like us.\" Abraham and Eliama are regular volunteers during events at the school. \"Our son has improved a great deal since he has started coming to Senses. His social skills have improved and he is very receptive to meeting new people,\'\' says Abraham. \"The centre has a full-time residential care home, a day-care centre and a respite care home that offers facilities for the children here,\" says Eliama, who is happy that her son is taken care of so well while she is at work. Mehdi Trimech, 29, the president of the Rotaract Club of Jumeirah, has nothing but praise for the centre and its work. \"This is a great way to give something back to the community,\" he says. \"I\'ve been volunteering here for the past five years and it has taught me a lot of things, most of all patience and compassion. I\'d rather come here than go to a party on the weekend.\"  Senses has 76 staff for the 83 students at the centre, an unusually high student-to-staff ratio. \"We have a very large staff because we try to provide one-on-one service,\" Lina explains. The result of such personalised attention is that the students integrate into the mainstream more easily. \"Now more than 12 students are ready for regular academic classes in regular schools,\" says Lina. \"Two of our students, in fact, attend regular schools now. That is a huge achievement for us. One of our students, Khalaf, who is eight, was with us for two years. He\'s autistic, but now attends grade two in a regular school and is doing great. He gave me hope - it was proof that if we give them the attention these children deserve, they can do as well as others. \"One of the students Mohammad, who is six, came to the school with severe speech problems, but we taught him functional communication and now he can recite parts of the Quran,\" she adds The professional services offered within the day care centre include physical, occupational, speech and sensory integration therapies, which are all vital to development. Three volunteer days are held every week. There is an outing day organised on Sundays; a washing and ironing day on Saturdays and a dance and play therapy day on Wednesdays. Lina encourages anyone who is interested in volunteering for any of these days to contact Senses (senses@eim.ae). The centre seeks to achieve integration of its students into society, and though the road ahead is long, it is well on its way. \"We started a vocational rehabilitation class more than a year ago where students are taught skills such as T-shirt printing, book binding, and handicraft making, among other things. They are also taught how to meet and greet people and man ticket counters in exhibition stalls. Now three of our students are ready to work in a normal environment with supervision. \"During the summer we arrange for those who are capable of work to take part-time positions under the observation of our staff in some establishments like Shangri-La Hotel and the Marriott Hotel, in the housekeeping sections, and to man kiosks at Modhesh Fun City.\" Now Senses is looking for sponsors so that more children and youth can get care.   \"I\'ve been here for six years now, but I feel like I\'ve spent an entire life time here,\" Lina says. \"I\'ve worked in Saudi Arabia, Canada and my native Jordan, but this is where I feel at home. The students and staff are like my family now.\" At this point in our conversation, Ahmad, pops by for his daily peck on the cheek. She hugs him and pats him on his back. \"We try to give these students all the love and care we can,\'\' she says. \"It truly helps boost their confidence.\'\' There\'s plenty of evidence of the confidence she is speaking of as Ahmad walks back to his friends, smiling, ready to play another game.  From gulfnews

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