x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Learning centre looks to expand

Special needs centre for young adults wants corporate partners to finance move to bigger space and is also searching for volunteers.

The Special Needs Families Development Center currently operates out of a 10-room apartment in Karama Centre, a busy shopping mall filled with offices.
The Special Needs Families Development Center currently operates out of a 10-room apartment in Karama Centre, a busy shopping mall filled with offices.

DUBAI // A centre for young adults with special needs is looking for a new base of operations to accommodate its expanding vocational programmes.

The Dubai-based Special Needs Families Development Center is also in the process of changing its name and logo to the Special Needs Future Development Center, in line with its plans to focus on building a future for its students.

Space for outdoor activities is a top priority for the centre, which has 35 students and has outgrown the 10-room apartment it operates from in Karama Centre, a busy shopping mall filled with commercial offices.

The founder, Safia Baria, hopes a bigger space will provide fresh opportunities for vocational training and encourage corporate companies to select students for internships or employment.

"We have at least four students who are ready for job placements," said Mrs Baria, who launched the centre with five pupils in 2007. The former schoolteacher began with art and craft classes at home in 1998 after one of her three daughters was born with cerebral palsy.

"Many of our students are perfectionists and unlike 'normal' students they are completely focused on their work. They will not stop unless their job is complete. They look forward to coming here, they have their own identity and we want to build on their skills."

The centre is one of only a handful in the Emirates specifically geared towards teaching teenagers and adults with special needs, who are too old for early intervention schools.

The students are mainly aged between 14 and 22, and one pupil is even 52 years old. Their conditions range from mild learning difficulties to visual and hearing impairments, Down's syndrome and cerebral palsy.

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

Shonly Abraham, 18, recently completed a training stint at a finance company. He makes a touching plea for more placements.

"I like work, any work," he said, while diligently wrapping silver ribbon around a reel in a brightly lit art room filled with papier-mache bowls and block-printed bags.

"I put paper inside meeting rooms, take photocopies, get the room ready. Work, I like. No work, I'm sad."

Confidence-building is part of the training. Abraham's favourite room has five computers lined up against a wall and office equipment at the other end. Students learn basic computer skills and are also taught to spiral bind documents, photocopy, laminate and label goods.

High up on the centre's wishlist is additional volunteers. There are plans to add carpentry, cooking and housekeeping courses after the planned move.

"Not everyone will get job placements so, for the rest, it's a place to learn new skills, improve their ability to socialise," said Sandhya Perera, a Sri Lankan expatriate with 24-year-old twin daughters at the centre. "More outdoor space will help their gross motor skills. What we need is awareness about this centre working towards independent living."

The centre hopes corporate companies and well-wishers will pitch in to fund the move.

"We've seen some places but the rates are high," said Mrs Baria about potential locations where rents were almost 60 per cent more than the current annual Dh215,000 charge. "It's a challenge, but we will depend on support from corporates and individuals who come forward."

Sales of customised mugs, mats and candles made by students specially for companies add to the funds.

The confidence gained here is clearly visible on the face of Bhradesh V, a 13-year-old student with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

"How are you? I am fine," he smiles, as he dashes across the room, extending his hand to introduce himself. "I like it. I have many, many friends."