ABU DHABI // Khalifa cries every morning as he watches his eight siblings go to school.
Khalifa, 6, gets up early and grabs his backpack, which contains pencils and a notepad, and runs to the door.
Even his mother, who had no earlier education, leaves to go to school.
“I want to go,” screams Khalifa as his father reluctantly pulls him back.
“It breaks all our hearts to see him crying at the door and screaming that he wants to go to school,” Umm Khalifa said.
The Saudi boy was refused admission to several government schools because he was born with chronic lung diseases and has to be attached to an oxygen cylinder 24 hours a day.
Khalifa is on three different medications and has to have his oxygen levels monitored throughout the day.
“I went to several schools and they all said that they couldn’t accept him because he has special needs. They told me to go to a centre for special needs,” his mother said.
“Khalifa doesn’t have special needs. All he needs is a nurse or someone to watch over him.”
Home schooling is also not an option because both parents are barely literate and they cannot afford it.
“I came to the UAE more than 30 years ago and have settled here,” said Khalifa’s father, aged 60. “I do small jobs and sometimes go to Saudi Arabia to buy fabric and sell it here.”
The family lives in a two-bedroom extension of an Emirati relative’s house in new Al Shamkha.
“We are very poor and, if not for my aunt who gives us food and allows us to live here, we wouldn’t have been able to survive. But in spite of that all I care about is that my son goes to school. That is my dream,” Umm Khalifa said.
Khalifa’s doctor, who works at one of the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company centres, said: “Khalifa is an intelligent boy and needs to go to school to thrive.
“He isn’t considered special needs because he has no cognitive problems, so it’s unfair to put him in a school for children with such disabilities.
“He is a normal boy who needs to go to a regular school and be around children his age, make friends and do what other children do.”
She said going to a normal school would not be a risk to Khalifa.
“He just needs to be watched for his oxygen levels. Even healthy children get sick. Khalifa is no different than any other child.”
The family claimed that they visited the Abu Dhabi Education Council last year but nothing came of it.
“I was sent from one person to the other and asked to give Khalifa’s medical documents. I gave them the papers but they never contacted me again,” his mother said.
Umm Khalifa, who cannot read or write, did not remember to whom she gave the documents or to which department.
A spokesman for Adec’s P-12 special education needs section said: “The admission of children with special and or additional educational needs is supported by Adec schools.
“Children whose healthcare needs affect or have the potential to affect safe and optimal school attendance must have an individualised healthcare plan.
“The IHP shall be written by the registered school nurse, in collaboration with the pupil, family and healthcare providers.”
To date, the family has not had such a plan.
“The UAE has been so kind to us and the sheikhs support everyone without fail. I am sure they will help us,” Umm Khalifa said.
More school healthcare information is available at [email protected].
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(via The National)