For Smiles n’ Stuff, this is just the beginning. The shop, recently opened at Al Noor Training Centre for Children with Special Needs, sells craft items that are hand-made by the students: from T-shirts and tea towels to stationery and handbags, there’s a vast array of unique items for shoppers to get their hands on. Al Noor head of department for vocational training Ranjini Ramnath hopes that in future there will be kiosks set up in malls to sell the students’ hard work – and maybe even more stores.
This isn’t a money-making exercise – taking into account the cost of materials, Al Noor just about breaks even on the venture – but is more about giving Dubai’s disabled community a chance at employment. One student, Chantal Saado, who has Down’s syndrome, is already employed at the store, and a handful of former students are paid to create products in-centre.
Current students also produce craft items in vocational classes. Vocational training at the centre is split into four disciplines: carpentry, screen printing (the art of printing logos onto the likes of T-shirts and stationery), sewing and baking (Time Out is happy to confirm that the cookies baked here and sold at the store are delicious).
However, these classes don’t just teach practical skills. Ranjini explains the programme aims to make students job-ready, teaching them how to take orders and receive criticism, as well as educating them about job completion and using their initiative to ask for a new task once one job has been finished.
‘This project proves that our students have abilities,’ explains Ranjini. ‘It’s not very easy for our students to become employed. There are some companies who have a CSR policy and we have placed a number of students with these companies, which we’re very proud of.’ But if Smiles n’ Stuff can expand, it will instantly create more job opportunities for Al Noor alumni.
Everyone is welcome at the Smiles n’ Stuff store, which Ranjini hopes will become a destination and meeting point for the local community. The shop serves coffee and cookies and there is an outdoor area for relaxing and enjoying the fruits of the students’ learning.
It’s certainly a pleasant place to be. ‘I’ve grown up here,’ explains Shahjahan Khuda Buxx, an ex-student with impaired hearing who is a paid carpenter for Smiles n’ Stuff. ‘The centre is like home for me.’
Smiles n’ Stuff is at Al Noor Training Centre for Children with Special Needs, near Choco’a, behind Mall of the Emirates. Open daily 9am-2pm, 4pm-7pm. See www.alnoorspneeds.ae for a map, or call 04 340 4844.