x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Children pay heaviest price for funding shortfall

Without sponsorship for their fees, disadvantaged special needs children are sentenced to suffer at home.

SHARJAH // When sponsorship runs out, special needs children pay a heavy price.

In a compact Sharjah home that her parents share with two other families, Madhushi Ramtha, 10, who has Down syndrome, counts aloud on her fingers. She is keen to show off skills learnt at Manzil and with the flick of her wrist asks her mother not to help. "You be quiet please," she admonishes her mother and then gleefully claps her hands. "School? I sing, I dance. I am happy - school - I am all right."

During her four years there, Madhushi has learnt reading, writing, counting and basic computer skills. She also folds her clothes and keeps the house tidy.

But her Sri Lankan mother is anxious because Madhushi's Bangladeshi father recently lost his job as an office assistant.

"I don't want her to stop going to school, she has a good mind," said Mariam Kalubandarage, 49, seated near a blue curtain that separates the bedroom from a table on which Madhushi spreads her school work. "I know if I find help for her today, she can do well later. I want her future to be good."

Her concern is shared in neighbouring Ajman, by a Pakistani mother of two daughters with learning difficulties and attention deficit disorders. Jobs for her husband, a heavy-lorry driver, have slowed down and the family has no sponsor for the next academic year.

"If they stay home what will we do? My girls will be very sad, they will forget everything," said Hamida Gulab, 37, explaining that six years in school taught them invaluable lessons and boosted their confidence.

Both girls speak with difficulty, but their faces light up when talking about school. "Hello, your name?" they chorus when a visitor enters their modest home.

"I go school, have friends," shouts Fatima, 10, grinning as she darts out of the room.

Returning to their home country is not an option because breaking up the family would cause more heartache.

"They will miss their father, plus they are taught wrong words and teased by children in our family home," said Mrs Gulab, who has lived all her life in Ajman. "This is our home, we make it work here."

rtalwar@thenational.ae