Friday - - In The Uae -

Grow­ing up, Ki­ran Borkar’s school in Mum­bai was lo­cated next to a spe­cial needs school called Dilkhush. He passed it daily on his way to school, and while he of­ten won­dered about what the chil­dren in­side were like and what they were taught he never stepped in­side the premises. ‘Even af­ter I moved to Dubai 16 years ago I’d think about that place oc­ca­sion­ally,’ he says.

To­day, Ki­ran has quit his job as a mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sional in an IT firm to fo­cus on start­ing his own con­sul­tancy. ‘That’s only in the evenings. My days are ded­i­cated to my vol­un­teer work in Al Noor,’ he says. Ki­ran joined the spe­cial needs school as a vol­un­teer three months ago, af­ter he had an epiphany one morn­ing: ‘I woke up and re­alised that this coun­try has given me my ca­reer – what­ever I’m to­day has been be­cause of this coun­try, and I asked my­self “what have I given back to so­ci­ety?”’

To­day, he might be in be­tween jobs but Ki­ran’s men­tal ful­fil­ment and sat­is­fac­tion know no bounds as he as­sists trained pro­fes­sion­als and teach­ers in the Scholas­tic green class­room full of teenage boys. To the out­side world these young men might be held back by autism, cere­bral palsy and other phys­i­cal and cog­ni­tive chal­lenges but hav­ing worked closely with them, Ki­ran can only see their unique sto­ries and will to over­come dis­abil­i­ties, call­ing them ‘the de­ter­mined ones’, the term His High­ness Shaikh Mo­hammed Bin Rashid Al Mak­toum, Vice Pres­i­dent and Prime Min­is­ter of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in­tro­duced in the na­tional pol­icy for spe­cial needs ear­lier this year.

Ital­ian-Nige­rian stay-at-home mum Vic­to­ria Iz­ibeya Yakiah de­cided to stop by and see how she could help at the cen­tre when she was pass­ing by one day. ‘The next thing I know, I’m do­ing an ori­en­ta­tion. I started out think­ing I’d vol­un­teer once a week for one hour or twice a week for one hour. But once I started I de­cided to con­tinue com­ing in prac­ti­cally ev­ery day,’ she says.

Vic­to­ria grad­u­ated from feed­ing chil­dren who have lim­ited mo­tor skills to as­sist­ing with aca­demics in the pri­mary classes for kids aged eight to 10 years. ‘There’s re­ally a need in Al Noor for peo­ple to come an as­sist. Some­times in the class we have nine kids and just three staff mem­bers and each child needs one-on-one at­ten­tion.’

Isphana Al Khatib, the di­rec­tor at Al Noor Train­ing Cen­tre, ex­plains why. ‘An or­gan­i­sa­tion like ours is al­ways strug­gling for re­sources, so when vol­un­teers can pro­vide the ser­vices we re­quire, we’re happy. The pro­grammes we run are quite in­ten­sive, spe­cific and in­di­vid­u­alised and vol­un­teers help us en­hance our pro­grammes. They are not a re­place­ment for qual­i­fied and ex­pe­ri­enced staff; they for­tify the work we do.’

Each class has a teacher, a teacher’s

It’s not just the ACA­DEMICS you can help with at Al Noor: phys­i­cal ther­apy, sports, art and con­duct­ing OUT­INGS such as films and trips to mu­se­ums. ‘What we look for from vol­un­teers is COM­MIT­MENT.’

as­sis­tant, a teacher’s aid and vol­un­teers.

Both Ki­ran and Vic­to­ria are unan­i­mous in their view that it’s not the knowl­edge vol­un­teers can im­part that counts but the com­pany, love and af­fec­tion they can pro­vide to the chil­dren. ‘Un­for­tu­nately, not every­one treats the de­ter­mined ones as part of the gen­eral so­ci­ety. So, when [able­bod­ied] peo­ple like us make them feel like part of our life on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, the look on their faces is like a bless­ing from God,’ says Ki­ran.

Vic­to­ria has seen the kids progress from be­ing un­able to form proper sen­tences to de­scrib­ing pic­tures placed in front of them: ‘and wow, that just feels like you’ve given them some­thing and it’s too joy­ful.’

Ki­ran is best buds with some of the boys in his classes who jump up and hug him the mo­ment he en­ters the class. ‘Our chil­dren,’

says Isphana, ‘de­velop strong bonds with the long-stand­ing vol­un­teers. We have had some vol­un­teers go on to be­come staff mem­bers. We’ve had long-stand­ing vol­un­teers here: there’s an el­derly In­dian lady who’s been with us for years and teaches sewing in the vo­ca­tional work­shops. We’ve called her aunty for so long I can’t even rec­ol­lect her full name!’


Al Noor runs a vol­un­teer in­ter­ac­tion pro­gram ev­ery two weeks for peo­ple aged over 18; no pre-qual­i­fi­ca­tions are re­quired. ‘We give them a pre­sen­ta­tion, a tour of the cen­tre, and peo­ple get an in-depth aware­ness about the cen­tre and what pos­si­ble vol­un­teer op­por­tu­ni­ties could be the best fit for them,’ says Isphana.

Cur­rently, Al Noor has around 48 vol­un­teers and is open to more. It’s not just the aca­demics you can help with at Al Noor: phys­i­cal ther­apy, sports, art and con­duct­ing week­end out­ings (films, trips to mu­se­ums) are other op­por­tu­ni­ties. ‘Those who iden­tify with our cause but find it emo­tion­ally dif­fi­cult to in­ter­act with the chil­dren di­rectly can work in our suit­abil­ity depart­ment – we help to raise aware­ness and funds by sell­ing prod­ucts made by stu­dents like bak­ery items, hand­i­crafts and art­work,’ adds Isphana. (Al Noor is li­censed by the Min­istry of So­cial Af­fairs as a reg­is­tered char­ity.)

‘What we look for from vol­un­teers is com­mit­ment. If you can only come in one hour a week, we’re fine with it – as long as you do it ev­ery week for a con­sid­er­able amount of time.’ Isphana says.

Visit al­noor­sp­­un­teer

Ki­ran Borkar and Vic­to­ria Iz­ibeya Yakiah (be­low) are reg­u­lars at the cen­tre, which teaches chil­dren with phys­i­cal and cog­ni­tive dis­abil­i­ties


Each class has a teacher, a teacher’s as­sis­tant, a teacher’s aid, and the help of vol­un­teers such as Vic­to­ria

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