When you’re young you want to be everything. A vet, a zookeeper, a teacher, a mum! It’s not until you get older that you realise life isn’t actually that simple. The choice broadens; the status of job becomes an issue and expectations rise. Evidently I have no idea what I want to do or be in the future, which will totally satisfy my needs, enjoyment and my parents’ expectations. So when we were told to choose a place for work experience I was stumped. I considered a number of business firms, banks and offices but I knew that wasn’t really what I wanted to do, not yet anyway.
My sister suggested helping out at The Dubai Centre for Special Needs where she had worked the previous year. Interested, I agreed and called up straight away to arrange when I would start. I had no idea of the age range at the school or even the types of conditions I would be dealing with. All I knew was that I had to be strong and act and dress responsibly. As I hadn’t come in contact with many disabilities before I didn’t know what to expect or how I was to act towards the children. Did I treat them as I would any other kid of their age or was I a little more lenient and protective of them?
I didn’t have to worry though. The first hour and a half of me being there was an orientation with fifteen other ladies who were all there as volunteers just wanting to help out. The woman informing us about the school was a great help. She answered all my worries and gave us the best advice I could have had. She said ‘you are here to be a friend to the children. They rarely get to interact with people, let them know you are their friend. ‘ Though I went there with a friend from school we were split up straight away. At first we were both reluctant about this but looking back I’m glad we were.
If we had stayed together we probably would have ended up relying on each other and not thought for ourselves or figured out problems independently but asked the others advice. That’s not to say we never saw each other or discussed our class, we did, but we were also given the chance to be our own person at the same time. I was put into a class of eight students. Three of them were ten years old and had hearing impairments. But this certainly didn’t stop them from ‘talking in class’ or having friends. They were fluent in sign language.
No time would you ever look over at them and see them quietly getting on with their work. They were always deep in some conversation, which usually involved a lot of giggling and pointing! Rather than trying to stop them my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to open up the book of signing that was put in front of me and suss it out. But they were way too fast for me. No matter how quickly I turned those pages I was never going to keep up with them and even if I could, matching their actions to the little drawings on the pages was impossible.
Luckily one of the little girls noticed me struggling and wrote me a little message on a scrap piece of paper. ‘So that’s how they communicate with people who can’t sign’ I though ‘how frustrating it must be for them! ‘ Then she started signing and pointing to letters in her exercise book. I realised she was trying to teach me the alphabet. I took this very seriously and had learnt it in the next ten minutes. For the rest of the day, well the rest of the week I kept pestering that little angel to teach me more and correct me when I went wrong.
By sitting with these three rascals I noticed something rather sad, the little boy could not join in with the girls. When I asked why I was told that as he was new to the school he did not know English sign language, only Arabic which no one else in the school knew. I kept an eye on him throughout my visit, curious to know how he coped with the lack of communication. Surprisingly I found him to be the most helpful, caring, loving kid I had ever met before. He tried so hard to please everyone and never gave up trying when he found something difficult.
For him the lack of communication made him more attentive and alert, ready to jump at anyone’s cry. The other five students were extremely clever. They were all around seventeen and though they were doing work below their age ability they were strong minded, hard working and very aware of the world around them. I fitted in straight away; they made me feel very welcome and chatted non-stop to me. It wasn’t long before they started teasing me when I got something wrong or confusing me so I got something wrong.
I helped them with their maths problems and their spelling and they helped me when I made mistakes in my adding up and when I couldn’t control the computer. Though their disabilities may affect their ability to walk and for some to write it hasn’t affected their attitude to life but merely their approach. True, they can’t run to their goals physically or metaphorically but that doesn’t mean they’ll never reach them. Slowly but surely with the help of their family, teachers and friends they can achieve whatever they want.
Obviously they still miss out on some of the joys of life but to me they seem a lot happier than most other seventeen year olds I know. Their paths are straight, their aims are high and the smallest joy brings a smile to their faces and laughter to their eyes. I am thankful for the opportunity I was given to go there and meet those great people. Not only the students but also the patient teachers and devoted volunteers. These kids need all the help and love they can get and I’m not going to just disappear out of their lives. Any chance I get I will be back there visiting my new friends.