x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

City away trip offers new skills to youngsters

Nine children and young adults are going to Manchester to take part in community activities that will help them later in life.

ABU DHABI // Nine sports-crazy children and young adults with special needs will make their first trips abroad next week to take part in activities organised by Manchester City Football Club's community programme. The group, aged nine to 25 and all from Abu Dhabi, will join the Children's Able and Disabled Sports Week programme, which puts people with special needs alongside members of the local community to offer them social development and interaction.

Their schedule includes a trip to watch City - owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed - play a friendly against Celtic, with the chance to meet the players. As well as playing football, their activities will include archery and tennis. The trip is the result of a partnership signed in March between the Zayed Higher Organisation (ZHO) and Manchester City in the Community (MCIC). Hanadi al Jafri, the ZHO education supervisor, said yesterday: "These trips will improve the daily life skills for the children. It's the first time they will be away from their families so it will help develop their independence skills."

She said the programme would also help to improve the communication skills of the children, all of whom have a limited amount of English, with the aim of preparing them for their later lives. "One day, they will have to mix in an environment which is not just for those with special needs," she said. "This is important for academic inclusion. One day they will be in mainstream schools." The children have a range of problems such as Down syndrome, deafness and learning difficulties.

Mohammad al Hameli, 12, the only child travelling with family - his mother and sister are accompanying him - said he was excited about playing with new friends in England. Wafa al Kindi, 11, said: "I've never been out of the UAE. I can make new friends and practise my English. I'm not scared about leaving my family. I can't wait to play sports against new people." Kathleen Austrin, from the ZHO, said the partnership's goal "is to develop provision in the community and to ensure that people with physical, sensory and learning difficulties have equal access to sport and physical activity across Abu Dhabi".

The aim is to provide more sports activities across Abu Dhabi for those with special needs. The ZHO will receive guidance on training for coaches and sports professionals, and observe how MCIC, established in 1986, runs community programmes. This summer's programme, starting on August 7, is intended to be the first of many between the two organisations. Next year, autistic and visually impaired or blind children will be taking part.

Ms Austrin said the ZHO planned to work with schools, professional sporting bodies and voluntary organisations to increase the inclusion of those with special needs in sport and physical activity. One aim of the programme was to develop athletes, coaches and volunteers for the London 2012 Paralympics. mswan@thenational.ae