Maha Khouzami Elazar is brimming with optimism and cheer. The educational consultant from Sharjah who heads the Awladouna Learning and Rehabilitation Center is proud to mention her centre’s achievements. ‘One of the students from Awladouna, Abdul Aziz, is working for RAK Bank,’ she says. ‘Another is with the Dubai Municipality. Yet another is with a bank in Sharjah. It makes me so proud that our students have found the right placements and are doing well in careers.’

Set up in 2002, Awladouna offers special needs people the opportunity to get a basic education, hone their skills and talents and achieve their full potential.

‘We avoid using the term special needs,’ she says. ‘I prefer ‘people with determination’. These students have it in them to make the most of their talents. 
On our part, we aim to preserve and restore their cognitive function before it’s lost permanently.’

Once a student is enrolled in the centre, the first step is assess them for present skills and abilities. Once their skills are identified, the students are put on what Maha calls Individual Education Plans.

‘The study material is so built to make them express their ideas, emotions and aspirations,’ says Maha. ‘Several motivational tools are employed to improve self confidence and self esteem and to instil leadership values.’

The staff, which includes clinical psychologists, speech and occupational therapists and nurses, work to boost students’ attention span, concentration power and motor skills.

‘What is important is setting achievable goals,’ says Maha. ‘Overloading a child who already has learning difficulties is likely to lead to aggressive behaviour.

‘My goal is to see every student in our centre make the transition from being at the fringes of society to its core in a smooth, stress-free manner. I believe the society needs them as much as they need society.’

A non-profit, Awladouna, she says, relies on the 3 Ps – patience, planning and perseverance. ‘There are 72 students at the centre and all of them are trained in some kind of vocational skills apart from getting basic education.

‘Vocational training is part of our education programme,’ she says. ‘It aims at introducing work placement and occupation to our students enhancing their working skills as well as familiarising them with various working environments.’

Students have the option of learning among others, candle and jewellery making, art, printing, packing, labelling and marketing, sewing, carpentry and cooking/baking. ‘Apart from this, we also teach the students the basics of computers,’ she says.

The gourmet programme – where students are taught cooking and baking – is hugely popular, says Maha.

One area in the centre is converted into a mock cafeteria where students are taught table setting, manners, hygiene and etiquette.

‘As part of the gourmet programme we teach students how to take an order, prepare food, pack it hygienically, handle currency and to sell the food at the canteen,’ says Maha. ‘One of our students named Khalifa, for instance, is very interested in cooking.’

The special needs educator is thrilled when she mentions that 32 students who trained from the centre have moved to regular schools. ‘I consider that a huge accomplishment,’ she says.

But clearly what gives her immense joy is the fact that many of the students from her centre have landed jobs in companies across the UAE.

‘One of our alumni, Abdul Aziz, is working with RAK Bank. He was trained to sort documents and do administrative jobs. He is very good at it and he is now doing well in the bank,’ she says.

At the moment, though, she is keen on helping Yousuf, the award-winning student with a passion for art, to land a job in a bank. ‘He is good not just in the visual arts but also with numbers. I’m hoping to see him in a good job in a bank.’