About 150 children watch magic show, get faces painted and enjoy a variety of other fun pursuits in Abu Dhabi.
Eid celebration for special needs children
ABU DHABI // With larger-than-life Smurfs, an inflatable maze and face painting, the school day did not follow its normal routine for some children yesterday.
About 150 pupils from four special needs schools and centres across the emirate took part in an Eid celebration held especially for them.
The event was organised by Takatof, the national programme for social volunteering, and was staged in the grounds of Al Jazira's Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.
Days such as this are as important as academic learning for pupils, said Elaine Looney, a teacher at the Future Centre for Special Needs.
"This is definitely part of their curriculum, part of their education," she said.
The centre's teaching process includes instilling social and practical skills in pupils to help them integrate into the community.
"It's just great to have a social outlet for them and to have them interact," said Ms Looney, from Ireland, who supervised a group of 10 girls.
The event also allowed many volunteers to meet and work with children with special needs for the first time, said Afra Al Marbooei, 32, a teacher at Al Ameen School.
"This is my first time," said the Emirati, who was in charge of an arts and crafts table. She volunteered to take a more "active part in the community".
"I think it's very important," she said. "Most people should know about this part of society."
Activities on offer included colouring pictures of popular cartoon characters and taking shots at scoring past a volunteer goalkeeper. But the children and teachers came up with their own games, too, including an impromptu football match. This was followed by a magic show, much to the children's delight.
Taking part in an event like this is vital for strengthening the community, said Mohammad Al Jasmi, who acted as a goalkeeper.
"This helps people with special needs become part of society, the interaction," he said.
He added that while some people did not value or understand the importance of volunteering, many were helping to change misconceptions.
Twenty volunteers, both Emiratis and expatriates, signed up to help at yesterday's event.
Volunteers register online with Takatof and are picked for various events depending on the information they provide. They also receive training, said Khaled Al Hosani, the national project manager for the programme. "On the website we announce the projects and we put all the details on," he said. "We put the dates, timing and the roles of the volunteers, so the volunteer will be aware about what they are doing."
Takatof will hold a similar event in Dubai next week. Plans for a third in the Northern Emirates have yet to be confirmed.
There are plans to bring together every special needs centre in the country, said Mr Al Hosani.
"We have many special needs centres across the UAE and they are doing a great, great job," he said. "We are planning, inshallah, in 2013 that all the UAE special needs centres come together in one place."
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