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Artists on a mission to be seen

DUBAI // A love of art and striking up friendships with others who have special needs has led to a more independent life for a group of UAE residents.

Students at Mawaheb from Beautiful People – an art studio in Al Bastakiya, Dubai, for adults with special needs – are learning painting, sculpture, mosaic and more. But it is their changing vision of self that is perhaps the studio’s greatest masterpiece.

The relaxed, safe and inspiring environment provides a great boost to students’ self-confidence and self-reliance.

After joining the studio last September, Nazeer Ali, who has autism, felt confident enough to start using public transport on his own. “I can handle it, he said. “I travel by metro every day without any problem.” He rides his bike to the metro station near his Deira home.

When fellow Mawaheb student Ashar Hussain, who is hearing impaired, won a contest for a two-day stay in an Abu Dhabi hotel, Nazeer went with him and they had a great time.

“We went to Abu Dhabi on our own, without parents,” said Nazeer. “It was really fun and no panic, no panic at all.

“I want to know how to handle myself.”

Being at the studio not only fosters a sense of self-reliance for the students, it also smashes false ideas of limitations.

James Casaki – who has ­Kabuki syndrome, a rare, multisystem disorder characterised by development, growth delays and health problems – got in front of an audience of more than 600 school pupils and provided a motivational speaker event.

“It (Mawaheb) has changed my life,” said James. “They treat me like a normal person, I love everybody here, it is like my family.”

Vincent Bower, who has Down syndrome, travels from Abu Dhabi by bus and metro to Mawaheb studio to learn painting and sculpture.

He also guides visitors to the studio through the labyrinth of lanes in the historic old quarter.

“Painting is my life,” he said.

When volunteers ask Georgina Corley, who has Down syndrome, if she wants a ride home, she firmly shakes her head and says: “No. I go by metro.”

Her mother picks her up from the station.

Sharan Anil, who has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, said being with a helper sometimes means he becomes invisible, something he hopes will change because of Mawaheb. “Some people will not talk to me directly, they address the person with me,” he said. “This will change when people know we are like them and see us around more often.

“It’s important everyone sees who we are, we would like to be treated like everyone else.”

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(via The National)