De­ter­mined to show that they are not de­fined by a dis­abil­ity

The National - News - Arts & Life - - Front Page - Jes­sica Hill

Saif Saeed, a 26-year-old Emi­rati florist, greets his cus­tomers with a wel­com­ing smile. He keeps fit with karate and swim­ming, and by play­ing with his 9- year- old son. Saeed also hap­pens to have learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties – but he does not let that de­fine him or his life.

The UAE gov­ern­ment of­fi­cially refers to peo­ple with special needs as “the de­ter­mined ones”, which is an apt de­scrip­tion of Saeed and four other men who run the new­est shop to open in Dubai’s trendy d3 de­sign dis­trict. They sell dec­o­ra­tive pot plants, gift bas­kets and bou­quets, backed by En­able, a so­cial en­ter­prise off­shoot of the Desert Group of hor­ti­cul­tural and land­scape com­pa­nies.

“We in­te­grate these de­ter­mined mem­bers of so­ci­ety and give them a liveli­hood,” says the group’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, Michael Mas­caren­has. “Like any of our staff, they get trained and they get a salary. We are all equal, pe­riod. It gives them a pur­pose in life so they are not a bur­den to their fam­ily or to so­ci­ety.”

Desert Group be­gan em­ploy­ing and train­ing peo­ple with special needs in 2003 at their nurs­ery at Dubai Gar­den Cen­tre on Sheikh Zayed Road. The com­pany now em­ploys 32 such men, five of whom were hand-picked to run the d3 pop-up store, which was launched last week.

Work­ing along­side sales and mar­ket­ing ex­pert Saeed is Ab­dul­lah Hareb, who has Down syn­drome and spe­cialises in pot­ting the plants, and Ab­du­lahh Yousef Ab­du­lah, a keen gar­dener who would like to open his own busi­ness one day.

“When I make the bou­quets, I feels proud and that makes me happy,” he says. The men are over­seen by En­able’s se­nior ther­a­pist, Ibrahim Ali Mo­hamed Ali, from Egypt.

“Our tar­get is that this store will be just as pro­fes­sion­ally run as one that you might find in any mall,” he says. En­able pro­vides a range of dec­o­ra­tive botan­i­cal prod­ucts to or­gan­i­sa­tions such as Dewa, Jumeirah at Eti­had Tow­ers, Dubai Dry Docks and many of the restau­rants in d3.

“We’re nur­tur­ing our staff to de­velop an en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit in them,” says Mas­caren­has. “They, ‘ the de­ter­mined ones’, are able to prepare these beau­ti­ful desk­top dec­o­ra­tive pieces, and each is la­belled with their pic­ture and names. For each sale Desert Group be­gan em­ploy­ing and train­ing peo­ple with special needs in 2003 they make, they get 15 per cent of the pro­ceeds. The profits, if any, are re­tained by the unit and I hope that one day, we will have a women’s wing, too – the first of its kind in the Mena re­gion.”

The shop is set to close on July 31, but “we are re­ally hop­ing it will get ex­tended to be­come more per­ma­nent”, says Mas­caren­has.

Spon­sors in­clude the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Te­com, Amina Rosta­mani, and the chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of d3, Mo­ham­mad Saeed Al She­hhi. Saeed, who has been work­ing for En­able since 2006, says the job pro­vides in­come and a sense of pur­pose.

“I am very proud of my­self,” he says. “The other staff at En­able are like brothers to me. If I wasn’t here work­ing, I would be at home – I am glad to be here.”


Mi­nal Rita / Desert Group

From left, Ab­du­lahh Yousef Ab­du­lah and Ab­du­lah Mubarak Mo­hamed with se­nior ther­a­pist Ibrahim Ali Mo­hamed Ali.

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