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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Families' desperate plea as UAE special needs centre faces closure without financial support

'If the centre closes, our daughter will lose her chances of developing and progressing,' said the mother of a five-year-old autistic girl

Zahia bin Zayed and her son three-year-old Mohamed Hedi, at the Dimensions Centre. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Zahia bin Zayed and her son three-year-old Mohamed Hedi, at the Dimensions Centre. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Families of children with special needs are appealing to the public to help keep the Dimensions Centre, a vital lifeline for those with children who need specialised care, open after a lack of funds has left it facing imminent closure.

“[The closure] cannot happen. My child will stop developing and her condition will deteriorate if the centre closes its doors,” said Welma De Leon, the 47-year-old Filipino mother of Elijah, 5, who has autism.

“My daughter has improved in an excellent way and started to speak and communicate after she began taking sessions at the centre and I don’t want her to stop developing,” said Ms De Leon from Kalba.

Elijah joined the centre, in Fujairah, in September 2017 for free as the family couldn’t afford to pay the fees.

In December of the same year they managed to get the support of the Red Crescent.

“The centre charges Dh200 per hour and we couldn’t afford that, but the management approved to enrol our child for free for almost three months and then helped us get financial support from the Red Crescent to keep our daughter at the centre,” she said.

“We are so grateful for what they have done for our daughter and how they managed to improve her skills, how they guide us on how to deal with her and support her. If the centre closes, our daughter will lose her chances of developing and progressing.”

Saleh Al Mansoori and his wife Tamara Tagliapietra established the Dimensions Centre in Fujairah in 2015. Pawan Singh / The National
Saleh Al Mansoori and his wife Tamara Tagliapietra established the Dimensions Centre in Fujairah in 2015. Pawan Singh / The National

The Dimensions Centre in Fujairah city opened in November 2015 with the goal of empowering children who suffer from various disorders, and to help them adjust to school and their environment.

The centre is now facing closure after unpaid operating bills piled up due to a lack of financial support and the ongoing burden of offering free sessions and discounts of upto 50 per cent as many parents cannot afford to cover the fees.

“It’s hard to reject any case, so we keep on searching for other solutions and sometimes offer the sessions for free. That got us into a financial crisis as we haven't been able to pay any bills since the beginning of the year,” said Tamara Tagliapietra, who owns and manages the centre along with her husband Saleh Al Mansoori.

Another mother of an autistic child said that her son could not attend school before joining the centre.

“I didn’t know that Hamdan was autistic until he reached 4. I noticed that he was different and had speech and learning difficulties and the nurseries refused to take him in due to that. I took him to the Dimensions Center were they helped him improve and taught me how to deal with him at home and outside,” said Halima Hilal, a 36-year-old Emirati mother of three living in Fujairah.

“Now he is 6, and I’m so proud of him and of the center as they exceeded my expectations. He has become more social, is using words to express himself and his behavior has much improved. I can’t trust any other centers in the area and I can’t afford to move him to another emirate for treatment,” she said.

Fujairah, United Arab Emirates - April 5th, 2018: Welma De Leon a 47-year old Filipino mother and her autistic 5-year-old daughter Elijah, at the Dimensions Centre which helps kids with special needs. Thursday, April 5th, 2018 at Dimensions Centre, Fujairah. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Welma De Leon, pictured with her autistic daughter Elijah, fear she will not get the support she needs if the centre closes. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Twenty-one children aged between 3 and 15 are currently benefiting from the centre's services and are developing new skills with the help of therapists, while 10 others are waiting to be sponsored in order to join the centre.

“Three children are taking the sessions for free as their families can’t afford it and we had to give a 50 per cent discount to three other children as their parents could only afford half of the fees. One has a 40 per cent discount and another 35 per cent, six have a 25 per cent discount, one at 15 per cent discount and one more at 10 per cent,” said Ms Tagliapietra.

As well as Elijah's Red Crescent sponsorship, three are being covered by the Government as one of their parents works for the army, while one other family have promised to pay as soon as they have money.

The centre needs thousands of dirhams to keep operating and sponsoring a child can cost between Dh38,600 to Dh57,600 per year for between four and six sessions a week – the frequency depends on the child's disorder, age and the doctor’s recommendation.

One single mother who is waiting for a sponsor for her son who is hyperactive and has speech and language difficulties said her salary barely covers their daily expenses and she can’t afford the fees as she is also responsible for two more children aged 6 and 2.

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“Mohammed is almost four and he didn’t get any therapy yet. I’m afraid that his condition will become worse. I went to the centre and they told me that they would love to help me, but they can’t right now due to some financial problems, so they added my son’s name to the waiting list hoping to get a sponsor,” said Zahia bin Zayed, from Tunisia, living in Fujairah.

Ms Tagliapietra said that they need to pay out around Dh350,000 now to keep the centre open for another year, which includes property rental fees, licences and the salaries of five specialists.

“Last year we had a vision for a bigger centre to help those with special needs, but now we are at risk of losing the current one,” said Ms Tagliapietra.

Ms Tagliapietra has asked anyone interested in helping to contact her on 055 747 1010 - 09 224 2232 or through email tamara@dimensionsfuj.ae

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