A Down’s student strays from her classroom and finds you with lost eyes, when the rest of the class, including the professor steps at caution’s way before lending a helping hand. But sixteen-year-old Ayesha’s instincts take the lead and she guides her to the resources library where the rest of the differently-abled students are in session.
Some thirty years ago Dr. Ayesha Saeed Husaini’s rendezvous with the ‘specially-abled’, compelled her to take a U-turn. She changed courses and decided to study Special Education and graduated with a Masters in Social Work from Delhi University. She went on to complete her doctorate and thesis on “Inclusion in the UAE” from the University of Sheffield, UK, that gave her a unique grounding on the needs of the UAE (United Arab Emirates) society.
Since then, she has been relentlessly working as an educational psychologist, counselor and lecturer, and also founded Dubai’s first support group for families having persons with disability, the Special Families Support Group (SFS) in 1999. While the group initiated with 200 members, she eventually realized the need for a formal institution that addressed the needs of individuals with disability. This led to the genesis of Manzil which is one of the Middle East’s oldest non-profit group focusing on social inclusion of ‘people of determination’ (His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has said that people with disabilities will be called ‘people of determination’, and that those responsible for the services at organisations will be called ‘services officers for people of determination’).
Dr. Ayesha mentions with great pride that the average experience of her teaching staff totals to over 13 years and the organization is now spreading its wings crossing international borders, doing inclusion research and consultancy as an intellectual partner with Governmental entities.
Today Manzil has become the first centre in the Middle East for people with disabilities to have its programmes accredited by Pearson. With a vision to build an institution that ensured a life of dignity and independence for the ‘determined’, Manzil now caters to 42 students with cognitive disabilities (from 4 years onwards) with a staff of 27, making it a highly qualitative center with a significantly low student to staff ratio. In fact, since its inception in 2005, under its special vocational programme ‘Pride’ (People Receiving Independence and Dignity through Empowerment) they have been able to incorporate people with disability in the workforce. Dr. Ayesha mentions with great pride that the average experience of her teaching staff totals to over 13 years and the organization is now spreading its wings crossing international borders, doing inclusion research and consultancy as an intellectual partner with Governmental entities.
And in spite of being an NRI living in the UAE, Dr. Ayesha sits on the Advocacy Committee of Dubai Government’s Community and Development Authority and is also the Governor for Inclusion on a few UAE School Boards. Her unique disposition of being able to think out of the box has led her to be on various committees that have contributed in shaping the UAE’s inclusion policies.
She is a visionary beyond doubts, guided by what the need of the hour is. Her initiative taken a few years ago, is a true example of far sight: When the UAE was still not open to inclusion, she stepped up and launched a drive to have regular students attend school along with her ‘specially-abled students’. What many today would refer to as reverse inclusion. In fact, another unheard of a brilliant idea was to create a home for the old-aged with orphaned kids in India, when she was earlier working with Micky Jagtiani, owner of Dubai-based Landmark Group, about two decades ago.
Dr. Ayesha was mere eight years old when she saw the cobblers kids’ fighting over a piece of onion and bread lying on the ground. She wanted to reach out and make a difference in their lives.
After understanding of what goes behind the making of an individual with such an immense sensitivity towards the environment and those living around, it is equally imperative to take an action. Dr. Ayesha was mere eight years old when she saw the cobblers kids’ fighting over a piece of onion and bread lying on the ground. She wanted to reach out and make a difference in their lives. As a teenager as well, she would read to the blind, and later on worked in villages near Delhi in an effort to educate women living in slums. This urge to give back to the society is deeply engrossed in her till date.
Continuing to be sensitive to the needs and demands of the specially-abled, Dr. Ayesha believes that the UAE government, in conjunction with the private sector, should set up a country wide Endowment Fund which could oversee the allocation of money to different social sector verticals (like cognitive challenges, child abuse, geriatric care, protecting women etc). This non-profit government funded entity could also create quality-based evaluation frameworks which could assist in profiling the most professional charitable setups to attract funding as well as recognition and industry partnerships.
For someone, who does not take ‘No’ for an answer, Dr. Ayesha also believes that by enhancing the viability and facilitating the whole process of setting up social entrepreneurship frameworks, could encourage more people to do good and earn a living. She smiles and recalls that while the walk from the library to her classroom was a short one, the journey, to date, has been the longest and most rewarding. With an optimistic tone, she concludes, “I have often said that my dream of an inclusive society, in the true sense of the word, may still be distant but I am glad that we are moving in the right direction and I have been a part of that process.”
Listening to people, Yasmeen Maqbool acquaints herself to their life’s feature. What inspires and encourages, she’s always on the lookout for ‘passionistas’ and weaves their stories to bring to you the movers and shakers of today! Her only other true indulgence is spending quality time with her green fingers while listening to Jagjit Singh ‘ghazals’.