AL NOOR TRAINING CENTRE FOR SPECIAL NEEDS
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!’
HOW TO VOLUNTEER AT AL NOOR
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.
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