Students at the Special Needs Future Development Centre learn to put their practical skills to good use - and some even get paid to do so.
Special needs students learn life skills under new curriculum at Dubai centre
DUBAI // Karan Bathija is a glowing example of why companies should take on young people with special needs.
Every school day Karan, 22, diligently shepherds a student with special needs to classes at the Special Needs Future Development Centre, at which he once studied, in his job as a shadow instructor.
He is hearing-impaired and cannot speak, using sign language and writing to communicate, but rarely misses work since he was given his responsibility four months ago.
"We gave Karan an appointment letter and he gets a small stipend that he knows will be cut if he misses a day without giving an explanation," says Safia Bari, director of the centre. "So he texts us to say: 'Karan at consulate for passport.'
"It has taught Karan responsibility and independence. But we need more support from the community.
"We need companies, hotels to come forward to take on these youngsters in internships or part-time jobs. Boys like Karan are dedicated. Once given a task they will not rest until they complete it."
Karan grins and gives a thumbs-up when asked how much he enjoys his work. He signs that the job has taught him patience.
He frowns in concentration while helping his teenaged ward to negotiate between the 16 classrooms in the Karama centre.
He explains different activities to the youth, a student with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder who needs supervision.
The centre is one of a handful in the country that takes in young adults with disabilities who are too old for early-intervention schools.
It has altered its curriculum to focus on vocational and daily life skills for its 39 wards, aged 14 and older, with learning disabilities, visual and hearing impairments, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy.
Classes include speech therapy, interactive computer sessions, and work-outs in a compact gym to build muscle tone and strength.
Now the centre is looking for a more spacious home so it can teach trades such as carpentry. A recent fund-raiser with the well-known Indian singer Sonu Nigam raised some of the money required.
Another student, Shonly Varghese, enjoys his job of helping to monitor the mock-up home and office section, which is fitted with a bed, cupboards, ironing stand, washing machine, kitchen, dining table and photocopier to help students practise everyday activities.
Shonly, 20, watches closely as other students iron and fold clothes, laminate or copy documents.
"Everything I like," says Shonly. "I tell what to do … I don't shout. I want to work hard."
Seated nearby, Karan proudly signs that he saves money and spends a portion on fast-food treats and sweets for his four-year-old niece.
April Garribo, a teacher, says the centre matches activities with a student's functional skills, so while some are taught to vacuum, peel vegetables and make quick snacks, others learn to sort clothes and tidy the area.
"Our goal is they should apply these skills at home and we get an affirmation from parents," Ms Garibo says. "They need to be sociable, well-groomed and understand hygiene."
Asma Farooq, mother of Suhana, 21, enjoys watching how the changed curriculum has changed her daughter, who is a slow learner.
"She shows an interest in everything," Mrs Farooq says.
"As soon as she is back from school, she goes straight to the clothes line to fold and sort out clothes. Even if we ask her to eat lunch first, she wants to first finish the work.
"She is also speaking in sentences instead of words. It's like a dream come true."
Karan's brother Mukesh also takes pride in his young sibling's achievements.
"The responsibility of being a shadow instructor has made a significant difference in his attitude and discipline," Mukesh says.
"Earlier he was not as motivated. These students need practical skills and opportunities so they can be independent and proud."