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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Dimensions Centre: Special needs care facility closes due to lack of funds, despite appeals for help

Fujairah centre looked after 21 children in need of education support

Zahia bin Zayed and her son 3-year-old Mohamed Hedi at the Dimensions Centre, which helps children with special needs. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Zahia bin Zayed and her son 3-year-old Mohamed Hedi at the Dimensions Centre, which helps children with special needs. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Twenty-one children with various disabilities have been left without the support they desperately need as the Dimensions Centre closed its doors after four years.

The centre, which treats people with special needs in Fujairah, closed on the first day of Ramadan because of a lack of financial support. The ongoing burden of offering free sessions and discounts of up to 50 per cent to many parents who cannot afford to cover the fees proved too much.

Families were devastated when they found out the centre was to stop offering its services and renewed an urgent appeal to the public to keep it running.

They still hope that a generous benefactor will come forward to reopen the centre.

“I pray and pray in the holy month that the centre will open again. Shutting down the centre is like standing in the way of our children's progress and development, and that’s unacceptable,” said Halima Hilal, the 36-year-old Emirati mother of Hamdan, 6, who has autism.

“Hamdan has already expressed his discomfort and became aggressive as he used to go to the centre and the therapist used to accompany him in school,” she said. Hamdan's therapist used to follow his progress and encouraged him to participate in class, become more sociable and eat his food.

“He stopped eating his food at school and refrains from participating in class and always seems sad. Yesterday he drew a painting of himself holding the therapist’s hand, which shows how much he is affected by the closure,” said Ms Hilal.

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Time running out for special needs centre facing closure this week due to lack of funds

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“The centre helped him go to school and be accepted. They provided him with the skills he needed to express himself more, behave better and become social. It’s his right to get such an opportunity and the community should stand hand-in-hand to support children with special needs."

Another mother of an autistic child said before the closure that she was praying for a miracle to keep the centre open.

Welma De Leon, the 47-year-old Filipino mother of Elijah, 5, who has autism, said: “We can’t afford to take her to another centre and we will not find one in the area that provides the same service. We can’t take her to other emirates as she can’t handle long drives and it won’t work in our current financial situation”.

Elijah is now staying at home with her mother, who is following the centre’s instructions to maintain her development.

“After she joined the centre, my daughter started to express herself and that was huge progress as before I didn’t know what she wanted or why she was crying. Now I know, and that's all because of the centre’s efforts and instructions,” said Ms De Leon.

“I can’t do it by myself. Children grow and their needs change. They should have the opportunity to learn more and develop equally no matter where they come from and what type of condition they were born with.”

The Dimensions Centre in Fujairah city opened in November 2015 with the goal of empowering children who suffer from various disorders, and to help them adjust to school and their environment.

Centre manager Tamara Tagliapietra said closing the centre was like 'ripping the heart out of her chest'. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Centre manager Tamara Tagliapietra said closing the centre was like 'ripping the heart out of her chest'. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“I dedicated the past few years of my life to helping children with special needs and trying to keep the centre running, but I couldn’t," said Tamara Tagliapietra, the centre’s manager, who appealed to the public for help last month.

"I knocked on every single door to try to cover the expenses and also sponsor children from my own budget, but it wasn’t enough. We didn't receive the support we need to keep the centre open."

Ms Tagliapietra said they would need to pay out about Dh200,000 to reopen the centre.

“We received around Dh57,000 so far, and managed to cover some payments from my own budget and cancelled the staff accommodation. We still need Dh200,000 in order to reopen the centre and keep it running for another year,” she said.

“Taking down the centre’s signboard was like ripping my heart out of my chest. It's a nightmare to me and to many parents and all I want to say to them is that I’m deeply sorry that I failed you and your children and couldn’t prevent it from happening.”

Ms Tagliapietra hopes a generous benefactor will come forward to save the centre, which can be contacted at tamara@dimensionsfuj.ae.