x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Special-needs centre helps young adults

Young people with learning disabilities given training for the workforce, and are taught to look after themselves around the house.

As well as office tasks, students will practise making simple salads and sandwiches, doing laundry, ironing clothes and setting the table. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
As well as office tasks, students will practise making simple salads and sandwiches, doing laundry, ironing clothes and setting the table. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

DUBAI // Shonly Varghese, a teenager with learning disabilities, may one day live his dream of working in an office.

Shonly, 18, will learn basic skills at a new centre that will train young adults with special needs.

Clearing office clutter, filing papers, printing and laminating documents, and tagging goods with prices may seem like mundane tasks to most teens, but mastering them will give Shonly and his friends a shot at finding a job in the real world.

The Special Needs Future Development Centre (SNF) in Dubai has this week begun teaching life skills to a group of young students to also help them cope with everyday life.

As well as office tasks, they will practise making simple salads and sandwiches, doing laundry, ironing clothes and setting the table.

"One time you show me, I do the work alone," said an eager Shonly. "I like work, any work you give me. I can clean the office, I can work the photo machine, I can put pencils, notebooks and pens properly."

A mock-up office complete with desks, a copier, stacks of files, and spiral binding and lamination machines has been set up in the newly expanded SNF.

The centre has added rooms to the 12-room apartment it operates inside the Karama Centre, a bustling mall filled with commercial offices.

Safia Bari, the founder of SNF, says her goal is to make her young charges more independent. Some of the students, aged between 14 and 22, have hearing impairments, Down's syndrome and cerebral palsy.

The centre is one of a handful in the Emirates that focuses on teaching young adults with disabilities. The students are too old for early-intervention schools.

Over the past year, some students have been receiving training in the back office and reception areas of a furniture store, a financial services firm and a chemical company.

Mrs Bari, a former school teacher who started with art-and-craft classes out of her home in 1998, said she believed honing the students' skills at the centre would help them perform better at work.

"Once you give them a task they will not rest until it's done," she said. "They are focused, dedicated and sincere, and will not be checking their Facebook account or be busy on the mobile phone like people in the mainstream.

"For companies, it's a chance to give these youngsters confidence that they can be a part of society."

The centre has also recreated a living room, bedroom, laundry and kitchen so instructors can work on the functional skills of the students.

The students are being taught to make their beds, place their clothes on hangers, button garments, vacuum and tidy the area.

There is a washing machine and ironing stand in one room, while a refrigerator and microwave are in an adjoining room. There, the students also practise tasks such as washing dishes, making tea and preparing quick snacks such as noodles.

April Garrido and Ruwaida Sheikh supervise the students in the centre's home area.

"We will teach them in easy steps as our main goal is independence," Ms Garrido said. "The whole room is simulated like a real home to help them take care of themselves if their parents or helpers are not around.

"They should be able to go to the kitchen, fix a meal, and clean up afterwards."

Each student has his own schedule for training in the work and home areas, as teachers gauge how much help they need.

"It should not be overwhelming and once they realise it's things they do at home, it will be easier," said Ms Sheikh.

"Realistically, all the students will not get jobs but they need to learn basic survival skills to help them at home and to integrate socially."

A separate space has been reserved for a project to shred newspapers and waste paper, and recycle them into coasters, table mats and lampshades.

The excitement is tangible among the students and teachers.

Karan Bhatijia, 21, who has a hearing impairment, had a ready smile while communicating in sign language that he enjoyed learning.

Karan also said he wanted to learn pricing and tagging goods, and working on the computer.

Muneeb Ali, 18, said: "It is good to work, very good to work. I can learn more. I can learn everything."

rtalwar@thenational.ae