Caring for special-needs kids in the UAE is no easy task, but the Al Noor Centre has been doing just that for 29 years. Time Out finds out more
Tell us about the centre... The Al Noor Centre is the first of its kind in the region and has grown from just eight children in 1981 to more than 250 today – plus an ever-increasing waiting list. It aims to help individuals with special needs achieve their potential and provides a comprehensive training programme including therapy, work placement, computer and vocational training. We have children with developmental delay, children who find it difficult to fit into a normal social setting, such as a regular school, children who are physically or mentally challenged, as well as those with social-skill problems including Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism. The children in the core programme are aged three to 21, and we run early intervention programmes from birth.
You offer creative subjects like yoga, music and dance, too. How does this help? Music and dance are activities everyone should enjoy, whether they have special needs or not. The children respond to music very well and they enjoy sports and yoga, so their physical and mental development can only be helped by that.
How do parents get involved? Parents are an extremely important part of school. Families in Dubai come from many different cultural, national and economic backgrounds and their expectations for their children’s education are very different; so we work with each individual family to come up with the best curriculum and learning strategies tailored to their own child. We also have a psychologist at the centre who counsels, not only the children, but the parents, too – offering extra support and building a relationship between school and home.
Who pays for the centre and why do you need more money? Because of our large, professional team, fees for our students are subsidised. We have special educators, speech therapists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and classroom assistants, so the cost of educating our children is dramatically higher than for children who attend a typical school. The cost for parents would be rather prohibitive if left solely to them so we have had a lot of help from supporters over the years. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum built the new centre in Al Barsha for us. Since the highly subsidised fees do not cover the full amount of the training programme, the centre raises the remainder through events, campaigns and projects. In certain cases, the entire training for a child is sponsored. The centre receives no official or fixed funding from any source, so expanding our services is a problem. That’s why fundraising is really important for Al Noor.
Towards the end of last year you launched a credit card campaign. Tell us a little more about it. The scheme, which will last until September 2010, has three objectives. Firstly, because of the current economic climate, our partners have been negatively affected so large donations are not easy to come by. This campaign aims to get smaller donations from more people. Secondly, by using their credit card to donate, it gives people a small bit of involvement with our cause and having the community involved at this level is very important for us. Lastly, it will hopefully be regular, meaning that we have a continuous income of donations. We’re asking people to donate a minimum monthly amount of Dhs25.
What more can people do to help? Every alternate Monday afternoon we will be encouraging people to come into the centre in small groups. We will give a presentation about Al Noor and a tour around the centre. We want to offer people the opportunity then to decide where they’d like to volunteer within the school, as we have many different areas and we always need volunteers. If you would like to make a donation to the Al Noor Centre or learn more about its programmes, contact 04 340 4844 or firstname.lastname@example.org.