Many a time we wonder, ‘Who will make the change?’ And many other times, there are people who take the step to make the change. One such person is Fadia Haroon, who heads the Special Families Support Group (SFS) in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Hailing from Islamabad, Pakistan, her group is currently a motivational factor for many families in the Kingdom.
“For those who don’t know, SFS started in Dubai almost 16 years ago by Gulshan Kavarana after the birth of her daughter Zara (she was born with Dravet syndrome),” Fadia began. “My family and I moved to Bahrain when my son Shayaan (who was born without arms) was only 21 months old. Ever since he was born I was searching for people and support groups around the world. For me these supports groups played a major role in pulling me out of the shock and trauma after his birth. When we got to know of SFS we went to Dubai to one of their anniversary events. It was very overwhelming to see children who were autistic, with Down’s syndrome, children on wheelchairs and walkers, yet they were laughing, mingling, playing and enjoying every minute. I loved that bonding, almost like they were a big family. Gulshan advised me to start the same type of group in Bahrain and so I did using the same name and thus SFS Bahrain was started in January 2012.”
She continued, “In the beginning we were not very active. We were mostly focused on finding therapies and schools for parents, but as we grew we got some really incredible people onboard.”
SFS in Bahrain started with a few therapists, some teachers, parents, volunteers, some really kind souls who not only gave the group their time but also their energy and support. They came up with ideas, and how we could help parents and special children in more ways than one.
“We all work as a team. The most special thing about our unique team is that everyone helps selflessly for their inner happiness, neither for fame nor for money. There isn’t a single person who got involved in SFS as a volunteer and didn’t feel like each family was their family and each child was their child. Everyone shares a very strong bond with these families.” When we asked about joining her team, she nodded with a smile, “anyone with a good heart is welcome to join our group. I think volunteering is the best way to include special people into our lives, get comfortable around them and accept them as part of society.”
SFS organises family fun days every month. They are a fun, educational and learning experience not only for the children but for the parents as well. “We have had picnics, yoga sessions, puppet shows, puppet making, bowling, necklace making, egg painting, finger painting, sandwich making, seed planting, fashion show, mad hatters party, cup cake decoration, grocery shopping, ceramic painting, sensory exploration, dances, origami & fitness fun day,” Fadia elaborates. “We also organise exhibitions of special needs services. The aim of these exhibitions are to bring together therapists, doctors, equipment providers, centers, schools, educational material/ toys and parents of special needs all in one place. So far we have had 2 and are hoping to have the 3rd one early next year.” Briefing us abou the group programmes she said, “We also run a programme called the “Buddy Programme”. This is basically for students who want to spend quality time with special needs children each week. We get in touch with schools that have special award schemes and have points specifically for disabled community service. They then let their students contact us and we get them introduced to a special child. Each week the students go to their house and spend an hour either playing or reading a book or helping them in their school work. Parents really love having someone come over and letting them relax for an hour.”
Quoting a message from one of the mothers Fadia said, “SFS is really one big family. SFS group gives hope and joy to families. I feel something positive every time I come to the family fun days.”
Fadia tells us that parents have to face huge problems with regards to the children’s acceptance into a school, finding the right therapist, non affordability of medical equipment, etc. “Everything is so expensive here. SFS does not take any money for the fun days. We always look for free venues. When the intentions are pure and clean God’s help comes from above.
“We have had the opportunity of meeting some really big hearted and kind people in Bahrain. They are ever ready to help us by donations of food, drinks, venue, organising our events or sponsoring a family. SFS welcomes sponsors who can help children by paying for their therapies, buying their medical equipment or paying for their school fees. SFS never gets involved with money. Our job is to get the sponsors in touch with the family in need of help; we connect them.”
Fadia is grateful to Maria Cometti who runs a group called Charity Connect, and is another kind soul who arranged the Car Boot sale on 30th October for 2 children in the group who needed specialised wheelchairs and other equipment. The money raised from that event went into buying their equipments.
“We have had two Fashion Shows this year and they have been greatly appreciated. That proud moment when children come on stage brings tears to everyone’s eyes. We are more focused on their personality rather than their clothes. These kids with autism, ADHD, Down syndrome, learning delays, Cerebral Palsy, Hydrocephalus, Spina Bifida, hearing impairment, physical disability are all individuals with feelings, emotions, likes and dislikes. They are PEOPLE, not to be recognized by the conditions that they have, but by their individuality & their uniqueness.”
Fadia goes on to say that, “My personal experience with my son has taught me that people with disability are exceptionally outstanding if only families and societies accept them as they are and bring out the potential in them. Give them education and jobs and play your part in transforming them into useful people. I have seen parents crying for proper schools for special needs children, Bahrainis and expats alike. I wish the government would let proper trained professionals from around the world start schools here. And make their education easy and affordable.”
Sending her message to the readers of Bahrain This Week, Fadia said, “My message for the readers is to get to know people with special needs and disabilities. Befriend them and spend time with them, only then will you see their abilities. Once you start to focus on their abilities you will start to see an individual person who can understand and feel the world around him in his own unique way. The world worries about disability more than the disabled people themselves. The only disability in life is a bad attitude. I want to see SFS Bahrain progressing whether I am here or not. If I am not here, someone else with a special child will take over. The support must go on!”