Mark Eid with a greeting card designed by Al Noor students
With the Holy Month of Ramadan drawing to a close, all eyes are on Eid al-Fitr – a time to celebrate the end of a month of fasting by exchanging gifts with friends and loved ones. This means there’s no better time to buy and send an Al Noor greeting card.
For the past 15 years, the students at special-needs school Al Noor have been designing greeting cards to mark occasions such as Christmas, Ramadan and Eid. The money raised is poured back into the school, which currently cares for 260 children. Last year, more than Dhs200,000 was raised from the cards, which has provided essential funding for Al Noor. The special-needs centre charges highly subsidised fees, making fundraising an essential and continuous task – the cost of teaching a child is Dhs50,000 per year, and the fees charged only partly cover these costs.
Pakistani painter Anya Akthar is one of the art teachers at Al Noor who helps young special-needs students realise their artistic potential. Having previously worked at a mainstream school, Anya says her six months at Al Noor have been a revelation. ‘There’s so much to learn from the kids. Every day you’re learning, whereas at an inclusive school you’re teaching. Everyone is inclined to some sort of creativity, and it’s fascinating to see what these kids come up with on a daily basis.’ Anya also guiltily admits that her students now are much more enthusiastic and proactive than at her previous school. ‘They’re always very keen. I’ve only been here since March, but I’ve never once heard: “Do we have to do this again?”’ she laughs.
Al Noor plans its greeting card campaigns at the beginning of each year, though Anya says the actual design and creation is a lot more spontaneous. ‘You have to give the students some kind of foundation – show an example to give them some sort of concept,’ she explains. ‘As their teacher, you also have to limit how much you contribute, otherwise it isn’t about the child and becomes a pretty picture you can hang on the wall. This isn’t what the Al Noor greeting card campaign is about – it’s about the child’s vision and the child’s idea.’
Other projects Anya has lined up for her students include designing desk and wall calendars. The publication of these pieces not only raises money, but also boosts the self-esteem of students who have a visible, tangible example of their work and an ideal way in which to express themselves.
Anya gives the example of one student, who is paralysed from the waistline, who attends one-on-one art classes. ‘She’s in a wheelchair, but it doesn’t stop her – nothing can stop her. People like this make you really appreciate the everyday things in life that we take for granted – tying our shoelaces, getting out of bed in the morning, showering, eating, communicating,’ explains Anya.