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Hope Center a ray of hope for children with special needs in Jeddah

Hope is a center for children with special needs, founded by Uzma Raheem that provides a nourishing environment for them to develop their skills and learn, regardless of their nationalities and backgrounds.
Raheem established Hope 15 years ago when there was a limited number of centers dealing with special needs.
“I was working at a center but not satisfied with their system and when I went to the authorities they turned down my suggestions. So I decided to establish my own center; I began working out of my home, taking over two rooms. At first, it was initially only a summer program, but afterward with the encouragement of my parents, I rented the apartment in front of our house and set to work,” said Raheem.
Recalling the beginnings, she said the summer program began as a commercial venture with a small number of children. However, there was one particular child, whose mother requested assistance, as she could not afford to pay the fees.
“She asked me to give her the contact numbers of other centers, however due to the dearth of centers specialized in dealing with special needs children and because most of them accepted Saudi nationals only, she returned back to my center. That mother touched my heart and ultimately altered the course of the center. She asked me what I would do if I had a disabled child but couldn’t afford to provide him/her with a suitable education and if I didn’t have the financial means to go abroad. At that point I decided I would assist parents like her in whatever way possible with the blessings of Allah,” she added.
After that incident, Raheem decided her center would be non-profit, establishing a system by which parents pay according to their income, so as to ease the burden.
Relating some of the obstacles she initially faced, she related the difficulties of finding professionals specialized in special needs in the Kingdom and the lack of interest in working at a non-profit organization.
“Our center is not commercial, so when I hire anyone I make sure they are dedicated individuals who are passionate about the cause of this organization and committed to helping this deserving segment of our community,” she said.
Moreover, like other non-profit organizations, financial funding is a great issue, especially since Hope Center does not receive government support and has to depend on benevolent supporters.
“Without the help of these people our center would not be able to sustain itself, because we are not allowed to ask for donations and do not get official support, which leaves us in a very tight spot. However despite these obstacles we have been able to deliver our message and I believe the children bring the center these blessings,” she said.
Raheem aspires one day to have two successful institutions dedicated to special needs children. She dreams of an early intervention program for infants from the early months of birth till 3 years and a program for children ages 15 and above that would provide them with vocational training.
According to the Ministry of Social Affairs there are around 54 centers for disabled children in Jeddah.
“There are many centers in Jeddah, but they all face similar issues we suffer from.  We need people who truly understand disabilities and are specialized in this field. Most of the centers in Jeddah focus on autism and down syndrome, however there are many other disabilities that are still not receiving much needed attention and care,” said Raheem. She explained further that the philosophy of her center rests on focusing on the capabilities of the special needs children.
“Here, we try to focus on the ability of our children, their potential and aptitude and we try to engrain our children with a positive attitude, as well as a sense that they can accomplish many great things,” she explained.
In 15 years, Hope Center has helped more than 14 children integrate into regular schools. The rest of the children came back to the center because the schools reject them, as they are not equipped to cater and nurture for children with special needs. Schools in the Kingdom lack professional teachers specialized to deal with disabilities, they also don’t have the proper support system and parents can’t afford to pay for an extra tutor to mentor their child; this is why many integration efforts have failed.
“In our center we teach life skills to our children and we work according to the individual abilities and progress of each child, as each child is blessed with a different learning curve. It takes a lot of work from both sides,” she added.
Hope Center is the first multilingual and multicultural institution for children with special needs, which helps in the rehabilitation and development of Saudis and foreigners alike.
While some centers in the Kingdom do not cater to foreigners, Hope is catering to children from 23 different countries, with 60 students currently enrolled and has established two sections for Arabic and English speakers.
The center receives professional help and visiting facility members from Dar Al-Hikma’s speech and hearing department. In addition, Dar-Al-Hikma regularly sends interns with certified supervisors to follow-up on the children’s progress. In return, Hope offers training to the fresh graduates from Dar Al-Hikma and Effat College.
Hope Center believes in holistic development, which is why the care providers involve the parents in the process as well.
“We make sure that our work is being followed up and reinforced in a proper manner at home. That is why we focus on training families and involving them in their children’s rehabilitation. We are also involved in raising awareness amongst parents and our community about disability, as there are still many social misconceptions regarding this issue that hinder the development and integration of special needs people into the community.
Physical disabilities account for almost 74 percent of all disabilities in the Kingdom, with the remaining 26 percent are intellectual. Social taboos, lack of awareness and service providers are the key reasons behind the high incidence of disabilities in rural KSA.

Tehseen Ahmed

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