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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 17 July 2018

Dubai art studio serves coffee and an opportunity for people with disabilities to integrate

Mawaheb is an art studio aiming to integrate people with disabilities into the community

Vinayak Commar serves coffee at the cafe in the Mawaheb studio in Dubai, a place where people with disabilities work on their art and sell their creations. Christopher Pike / The National
Vinayak Commar serves coffee at the cafe in the Mawaheb studio in Dubai, a place where people with disabilities work on their art and sell their creations. Christopher Pike / The National

Drop in for a coffee served by someone with special needs and watch artists work as part of an initiative to build bridges between the community and people with disabilities.

Tucked away in a quiet corner of Dubai’s historical Al Fahidi district, Mawaheb — an art studio for adults with special needs — aims to foster an accepting environment whereby the community learn from each other.

“The community should open up and get to know them. That’s why we have opened a cafe so people can mingle, have a coffee, chat and meet people with special needs. A whole world will open up because we can learn so much from them. When others understand how people with special needs function and how they deal with so many big issues in their life, it’s then that we can accept the small hiccups in our life,” said Wemmy de Maaker, Mawaheb’s director.

The art studio takes in adults with a range of disabilities from hearing impairment to autism, muscular dystrophy and Down syndrome.

“We are trying to integrate students to society through the medium of art. But we still need to make the community understand they must be tolerant and not judge people who may be different but are also capable and talented,” she said.

The art studio also teaches students life skills.

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“This is a safe place where they are allowed to make mistakes. When you’re working on a canvas and you make a mistake, you paint over it. We teach them that this is fine, so they are not afraid to express themselves and make their own choices of what they want to put on a blank canvas,” said art teacher Gulshan Kavarana

Students are sometimes involved in talks on disabilities with volunteer teachers asking if they understand the meaning of Down syndrome and explaining that they are extra special because of an extra chromosome, she said.

When it is their turn on the rota, they are asked to help wash up after they serve coffee and tea to tourists who drop in while visiting the museums and galleries.

“Our goal is to let them talk to strangers. They talk to tourists, some handle money while working in the shop. When they meet people from different nationalities, they learn different languages. They know how to say hello and bye in several languages. This teaches them different skills and can help in the future if they go into a job,” Ms Kavarana said.

Once students complete school, experts and parents said the challenge was to find a place for teenagers and young adults with disabilities who required constant supervision.

“It is a sad thing because there is still a group that is functioning on a lower level who can’t go to a job and can’t come to institutes that have an open setting where students are quite independent. While things are changing, there is still need for more places for children like this who are above 18,” Ms de Maaker said.

Acceptance even within a family was key.

Amal Yousuf Baker, mother of Emirati artist Abduallh Lutfi urged families to regularly take adults with special needs outside their home.

“Some people don’t socialise with their children but mothers must do this from the beginning. I know with both parents working and other children in the house, it’s difficult to pay full-time attention to a child with special needs. But you can spend time with them, take the child outside, you shouldn’t be ashamed.”