‘So­ci­ety needs them just as they need so­ci­ety’

The Awladouna Cen­ter in Shar­jah helps stu­dents re­alise their full po­ten­tial by train­ing them in vo­ca­tional skills, says Anand Raj OK

Friday - - Making A Difference -

Maha Khouzami Elazar is brim­ming with op­ti­mism and cheer. The ed­u­ca­tional con­sul­tant from Shar­jah who heads the Awladouna Learn­ing and Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­ter is proud to men­tion her cen­tre’s achieve­ments. ‘One of the stu­dents from Awladouna, Ab­dul Aziz, is work­ing for RAK Bank,’ she says. ‘An­other is with the Dubai Mu­nic­i­pal­ity. Yet an­other is with a bank in Shar­jah. It makes me so proud that our stu­dents have found the right place­ments and are do­ing well in ca­reers.’

Set up in 2002, Awladouna of­fers spe­cial needs peo­ple the op­por­tu­nity to get a ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion, hone their skills and tal­ents and achieve their full po­ten­tial.

‘We avoid us­ing the term spe­cial needs,’ she says. ‘I pre­fer ‘peo­ple with de­ter­mi­na­tion’. These stu­dents have it in them to make the most of their tal­ents. On our part, we aim to pre­serve and re­store their cog­ni­tive func­tion be­fore it’s lost per­ma­nently.’

Once a stu­dent is en­rolled in the cen­tre, the first step is as­sess them for present skills and abil­i­ties. Once their skills are iden­ti­fied, the stu­dents are put on what Maha calls In­di­vid­ual Ed­u­ca­tion Plans.

‘The study ma­te­rial is so built to make them ex­press their ideas, emo­tions and as­pi­ra­tions,’ says Maha. ‘Sev­eral mo­ti­va­tional tools are em­ployed to im­prove self con­fi­dence and self es­teem and to in­stil lead­er­ship val­ues.’

The staff, which in­cludes clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gists, speech and oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pists and nurses, work to boost stu­dents’ at­ten­tion span, con­cen­tra­tion power and mo­tor skills.

‘What is im­por­tant is set­ting achiev­able goals,’ says Maha. ‘Over­load­ing a child who al­ready has learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties is likely to lead to ag­gres­sive be­hav­iour.

‘My goal is to see ev­ery stu­dent in our cen­tre make the tran­si­tion from be­ing at the fringes of so­ci­ety to its core in a smooth, stress-free man­ner. I be­lieve the so­ci­ety needs them as much as they need so­ci­ety.’

A non-profit, Awladouna, she says, re­lies on the 3 Ps – pa­tience, plan­ning and per­se­ver­ance. ‘There are 72 stu­dents at the cen­tre and all of them are trained in some kind of vo­ca­tional skills apart from get­ting ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion.

‘Vo­ca­tional train­ing is part of our ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme,’ she says. ‘It aims at in­tro­duc­ing work place­ment and oc­cu­pa­tion to our stu­dents en­hanc­ing their work­ing skills as well as fa­mil­iaris­ing them with var­i­ous work­ing en­vi­ron­ments.’

Stu­dents have the op­tion of learn­ing among oth­ers, can­dle and jewellery mak­ing, art, print­ing, pack­ing, la­belling and mar­ket­ing, sewing, car­pen­try and cook­ing/ bak­ing. ‘Apart from this, we also teach the stu­dents the ba­sics of com­put­ers,’ she says.

The gourmet pro­gramme – where stu­dents are taught cook­ing and bak­ing – is hugely pop­u­lar, says Maha.

One area in the cen­tre is con­verted into a mock cafe­te­ria where stu­dents are taught ta­ble set­ting, man­ners, hy­giene and eti­quette.

‘As part of the gourmet pro­gramme we teach stu­dents how to take an or­der, pre­pare food, pack it hy­gien­i­cally, han­dle cur­rency and to sell the food at the can­teen,’ says Maha. ‘One of our stu­dents named Khal­ifa, for in­stance, is very in­ter­ested in cook­ing.’

The spe­cial needs ed­u­ca­tor is thrilled when she men­tions that 32 stu­dents who trained from the cen­tre have moved to reg­u­lar schools. ‘I con­sider that a huge ac­com­plish­ment,’ she says.

But clearly what gives her im­mense joy is the fact that many of the stu­dents from her cen­tre have landed jobs in com­pa­nies across the UAE.

‘One of our alumni, Ab­dul Aziz, is work­ing with RAK Bank. He was trained to sort doc­u­ments and do ad­min­is­tra­tive jobs. He is very good at it and he is now do­ing well in the bank,’ she says.

At the mo­ment, though, she is keen on help­ing Yousuf, the award-win­ning stu­dent with a pas­sion for art, to land a job in a bank. ‘He is good not just in the vis­ual arts but also with num­bers. I’m hop­ing to see him in a good job in a bank.’

Above: Yousuf at the art cen­tre and, be­low, Ab­dul Aziz with Maha at RAK Bank where Ab­dul is em­ployed. The cen­tre con­ducts reg­u­lar fairs where prod­ucts made by stu­dents are put up for sale

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