x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Students benefit from Saadiyat golf event

The Ability Centre for Special Needs is one of two local charities to benefit from funds that will be raised from the Saadiyat Beach Classic,

Children at Ability Centre for Special Needs during their interacting session in Abu Dhabi.
Children at Ability Centre for Special Needs during their interacting session in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // Sahdia Khurshid stands in front of the blackboard, her full attention on the dozen students seated around the table in her sunny classroom in Abu Dhabi Gate City.

But this is no ordinary classroom, and these are no ordinary students. At the Ability Centre for Special Needs, students mix physical therapy sessions and independence-boosting classes along with their normal course work.

"It's always challenging," said Ms Khurshid, who has been teaching English and maths at the school for nearly a year. "These students are different, and it's always challenging, but I like it this way. I wouldn't want it another way."

The centre will be one of two local charities to benefit from funds that will be raised later this month at the Saadiyat Beach Classic, the second annual golf tournament organised by golf legend Gary Player.

The Ability Centre for Special Needs - along with the Emirates Autism Centre- will use the funds to boost their programming and purchase much-needed equipment during a time when funding sources are scarce.

"One hundred per cent, this money will make a big difference," said Ahmed Ghazi, a member of the board of the Ability Centre.

Last year, the golf classic raised Dh1.2 million.

At the Emirates Autism Centre, the 50 students receive individualised, one-on-one instruction from qualified instructors, but maintaining the centre's quality standards is difficult when the parents carry the burden of paying for the school's operations.

"There's no government entity, no patron giving us money," said Amel Galal Sabry, the director and founder of the three-year-old organisation. "There's no pool of money we keep dipping into."

Mrs Sabry said tuition and fees for one child at the Autism Centre is Dh42,000 a year, but the cost to the centre of one child is closer to Dh75,000.

"This type of centre needs support to maintain and develop the programmes necessary for the children," said Mohammed el Sayed Sharaan, a board member and parent at the Autism Centre. "Our goal is for these children to achieve, and that takes a big investment."

At the Ability Centre, a clinic on the second floor sits empty because the school does not have the funds to hire a nurse, and the library is filled with books not suitable for children with special needs.

"We are expecting more students. We are the one of the only ones in Abu Dhabi who take cerebral palsy cases, and we are expecting to expand, but we have empty classrooms and we need equipment, which is very expensive," said Noha Mamdouh, the public relations manager at the Ability Centre.

Ms Mamdouh and Mr Ghazi said about 95 per cent of the families who use the centre - 30 students ranging in age from three to 34 attend the school - are unable to pay the Dh30,000 tuition.

"Always, we are operating with a shortage," Mr Ghazi said. "We are looking to improve the facilities and open a sensory room, but so far we have been getting money by luck."

The proceeds from the golf tournament will go towards purchasing equipment and basic school supplies and paying the salaries of the nine teachers.

At the Autism Centre, administrators and teachers said the added revenue would mean reopening popular classes and improving existing programmes.

"There are no words about how much the money would help, but one of the areas that would be improved is the sports equipment room, where the students get to be most free. We need newer and safer equipment," said Khadeeja Ibraheem, a teacher.

A music class that was cancelled because of a lack of staff, for example, could be reopened.

"There is so much talent we have not been able to tap into because of a lack of money," said a teacher Mohammed Ismaiel Adbullah. "Could you imagine if we had a constant source of money?"

Lee Tabler, the CEO of the Tourism Development and Investment Company, which oversees the golf tournament, said he expects the Saadiyat Beach Classic to raise "substantially more" than last year.

"We specifically chose children's charities in Abu Dhabi that were lesser-known and needed more support," Mr Tabler said. "And we expect to be able to help these charities a great deal."

For Ability Centre student Abu Baker, 25, money is not a primary concern, but being in a school with his peers is paramount.

"I like to be at school and in classes with my friends," Mr Baker said. "That is my favourite part of the day."

The Saadiyat Beach Classic, scheduled for January 24, raises funds through donations and with a charity auction and gala dinner held at the Emirates Palace. Some of the items up for bid this year include a Tiger Woods autographed personal driver, three specially commissioned art pieces and a couture dress made to measure by designer Rami al Ali.

 

jthomas@thenational.ae