You might think the UAE has enough shops, but an all-together different kind of outlet has opened its doors in Al Arsa Souq, Sharjah, the oldest souk in the UAE. Her Highness Sheikha Jameela Bint Mohammed Al Qasimmi, director general of Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services (SCHS), wanted the craftwork of the centre’s disabled youth to receive more exposure, and has had a shop renovated in the souk to sell the students’ wares. ‘It’s so much fun for the children to see people appreciate their work that they can give away whatever they have made with happiness,’ Sheikha Jameela tells Time Out.
SCHS aims to change society’s attitude and behaviour towards the disabled, simultaneously providing mentally and physically challenged children with the confidence to participate in society and enjoy equal opportunities. The shop works towards both of these aims, as the children are encouraged to take turns selling items in the shop, both enhancing their visibility in the community and providing them with skills that may help them to find employment later in life.
Sheikha Jameela says the official opening was a great success. ‘It went really well,’ she tells us. ‘I was happy to see all the people who came – people who were already doing some shopping or tourist groups that were passing by. It was a really nice day. We also had a buffet where all the food was made by the students. We try to make it, in inverted commas, ‘normal’ to see the children among other people – that they’re not something strange.’
The handicrafts on sale, from ceramic work to woodwork, needlework and art, have all been produced as part of the centre’s programme for disabled children. Why is it important for them to learn about art and craft? ‘For a start, they feel self-worth from being creative and productive,’ Sheikha Jameela explains. ‘Secondly, they have something to hand if they choose to work. Maybe they could have a private workshop to make a living. We aim to train them with skills so that they can move on; we don’t want to keep them here forever, of course.’
So far, the students are relishing the chance to work in the shop. Sheikha Jameela says it makes a welcome change for them to be amid the buzz of the souk instead of in the centre’s workshop, enjoying seeing all the different people come and go. ‘They are really happy [about the shop], especially when they go and do the selling themselves,’ Sheikha Jameela reveals. ‘They don’t even ask about the money, they are happy just to be there and when people come and buy things they are so proud.’
The shop isn’t just uplifting for the students, but also the many women of Sharjah who have helped teach handicrafts to the children and lended a hand in setting up the store. ‘I think it gives them the same feeling I get from working here – self satisfaction from giving something back to society,’ she says.
Eventually, Sheikha Jameela would like to expand the venture and open up a range of outlets. There probably couldn’t be a better place than the UAE for such a plan – shopping for a good cause? Count the whole country in.
The shop, called Sharjah Centre for Humanitarian Services, in Al Arsa Souk, Sharjah, near Bait Al Naboodah, off Al Bourj Avenue, is open Sunday to Thursday from 9am-1pm. Items can be made to order. For more information on Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services you can visit www.schs.ae.