UAE Portrait of a Nation: The Queen of special needs children
Mariam Othman has been helping run the Rashid Centre in Dubai for more than two decades
As the founder of a centre for children with disabilities, Mariam Othman is perhaps the Special Olympics’ biggest fan.
The Emirati mother-of-six said she was euphoric when the UAE announced in 2016 that it would be hosting the Games this year.
Securing the competition meant a renewed focus on the thousands of ‘people of determination’ living across the Emirates.
And it also gave hundreds of aspiring athletes the chance to represent their country on the global stage, in front of millions of spectators.
“It all started from a small villa in Jumeira,” said Ms Othman, describing the early beginnings of her Rashid Centre for People with Determination in Dubai.
“In 1994 the centre served around 30 children with myself and just a handful of staff working there.
“But by 1999 we’d launched a new special needs centre in Al Barsha that you see now. It was my dream to establish this centre and now that it's all come true I still think I'm dreaming.”
Today, the bustling building boasts 250 full-time pupils and 140 qualified staff.
Employees include specialist therapists, teachers, assistants, drivers and support workers.
“Since its inception, the centre has had the support of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Ruler of Dubai," said Ms Othman.
“His Highness donated a vast amount of land in Al Barsha where the Rashid Centre was built.
“When he changed their attribute from “disabled” to“determined”, he boosted their self-confidence by giving them a name they are worthy of.
“That’s why the Special Olympics was so fantastic. It challenged and motivated us and the pupils, encouraging us to develop new skills.”
The Special Olympics World Games 2019 was held in Abu Dhabi and Dubai last month. More than 7,500 athletes and 3,000 coaches from 190 nations arrived in the UAE to take part in a total of 24 events.
Incredibly, two athletes from the Rashid Centre both won gold medals. Emiratis Ali Ameri, 22, came top in his swimming while Saeed Nasser, 18, also won gold in running.
The National visited the centre last month as pupils welcomed visiting football players from the UK’s premiership club, Arsenal FC as well as Al-Nasr FC from Dubai.
Students there relished meeting some of their all-time heroes, including Petr Cech, Danny Welbeck, Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding.
Also at the event was Ahmed Hashim Khoury, Ms Othman's husband and co-founder of the centre, as well as representatives from the British Council.
“Interaction, fun and learning do not end here,” said Ms Othman. “Various activities and visits are lined up this year and each is a celebration.
“Today we are all set for the Arsenal FC and Al-Nasr FC's visit.”
Unai Emery, head coach at Arsenal, said: “We're very happy to be here and play against Nasr.
“We enjoyed it a lot, especially all the great hospitality we received from people in Dubai.”
Updated: April 26, 2019 11:50 AM