They’re Truly Special…!
At the start of this summer, Uth Mag visited Mawaheb Art Studio for ‘Beautiful People’ as part of our Youth Social Responsibility campaign. What we discovered there was unbelievable. More than a story, it was an eye opener. Nandakumar Ganesh
I’m normal. But how would one characterize a ‘normal’ person? Can he talk cogently? Can he perceive a sentence correctly? Does he keep himself attentive all the time without getting spaced out? Can he function normally? If you delve into questions like these, you’ll find that being normal isn’t just as ephemeral as you think it is. It holds a much deeper significance in the society today. For people who are challenged (or have special needs, as is the jargon now!) in some way, being treated as an equal is very important. In fact, it is all they want from society but are unable to voice it out themselves. That’s why foundations like Mawaheb persevere to look after, teach, train and cultivate their talent to bring them out into the spotlight of society.
In the culturally rich area of Al Bastakiya in Dubai lies the art studio of Mawaheb, founded by Ms. Wemmy de Maaker who initiated this UAE chapter of the international ‘Beautiful People’ organization. Buoyed by the sponsorship of the Dubai Government and Royalty, Mawaheb focuses on developing the artistic talent and self confidence of young adults with special needs from the age of 16. Wemmy is also flanked by Ms. Gulshan Kavarana, Ms. Sonja and a number of other volunteers who have taken upon themselves to impart the best care and assuage the condition of these kids to the fullest. Activities undertaken in the studio include painting (on all mediums), mosaic and ceramic art along with excursions and art exhibitions around Dubai. A little tête-à-tête with Ms. Wemmy and Ms. Gulshan showed how warm and enthusiastic they were about the whole concept.
Where did the idea spark from? What was your inspiration to start such an amazing project?
(Ms. Wemmy) I had always wanted to contribute in some way to people with special needs. In Holland, I was working in the same line and when I came to Dubai, somehow it occurred to me this was an opportune place to start something unique, and I guess Mawaheb just happened! (Smiles with pride)
Why did you choose the minimum age limit to be 16? Why not younger kids?
(Ms. Gulshan) Presently, nothing is happening for younger children in Dubai. By the age of 18, when most kids pass on to from school to college, these kids have nowhere to go. So, this is a sort of their stepping stone. That’s why we offer these programs for kids who’re mostly just out of school.
From your website, I saw that you plan on making Mawaheb self-sustained. How do you plan to go about it?
(Ms. Wemmy) Well, though some kind of financial assistance will always be needed, we are trying to popularize our brand and stand on our own feet. The paintings done by the students are processed digitally and printed on these (hands over a small cup). Not just these; they’re also printed on other crockery, shirts, big canvases etc. And we market them. Our latest project is a painting by an artist which is going to be the design on the dress of the show-stopper of the upcoming fashion show at DIAC!
The students here are all in their teens, which is usually a rebellious age. How do you cope with those pressures?
(Ms. Gulshan, with raised eyebrows, smiling) First, call them artists please. It’s no pressure as such really. We are all equipped with enough patience to cope with their disability, or talent rather (grins widely) that we don’t really feel any kind of trouble in dealing with them. We treat them just like any other human being, except with a little more care.
Ms. Gulshan, you are the founder and CEO of the SFS Group. Is there collaboration between these foundations? Do the kids mingle?
(Ms. Gulshan) Essentially, these two organizations mean everything to me. Yes, since I’m part of Mawaheb, we do have some kind of interaction with each other. But as such, the two groups are on different tracks to achieve a united goal: to help people with special needs. SFS website- www.sfs-group.net
There are a lot other activities like singing, dancing or playing a sport that the kids could engage in. Why art and painting specifically?
(Ms. Wemmy) Art is a form of expression that anyone could suit to. It’s universal, creative, unique and liked by all at Mawaheb! Though it is not just art that we engage them in you know. We have book reading sessions, we watch informative stuff at times and we also take them out for excursions.
You have quite a number of volunteers here. What are your expectations when you take them on to your team?
(Ms. Wemmy) We owe so much to the volunteers. They’ve given so much of their time and patience to help these children out in whatever way they can. There aren’t any particular skills that we look for from them. Just that they should enjoy assisting others and should have an interest in art. End
Isn’t this a mean to integrate the artists with other people in society? What are your thoughts?
(Ms. Gulshan) Yes, definitely, definitely. The whole idea is to first develop their latent potential in a positive way by giving them freedom of choice and expression. This way, people outside will know that our artists are just as capable as anyone else. When the society realizes there is so much of talent brewing here, that’s when the gap between them and these artists is going to be bridged.
I bet you can’t wait for that day. Now finally, we’re typically an organization run by the youth. What’s your message on YSR(Youth Social Responsibility) to the youth and people of UAE?
(Ms. Wemmy) I feel everyone should involve in giving or imparting things they know to others who don’t have them. People with special needs are named so because they require a few more things than others. It will only lead to personal satisfaction and happiness to all. (Smiles)
(Ms. Gulshan, with a stern look) This is not something we need to do. It’s something we must do. It’s very important that these artists feel at home everywhere they go. They are the most beautiful part of a society. So, a food for thought: stop brooding about yourself and start thinking for others.
Then came the most heart-wrenching, but fun part of the visit; a one-to-one interaction with the artists. All aged from 19 to 28 years, these special people had a breathtaking eye for art and design. They were all scampering about between rooms, gathering drawing equipments, papers and books and were monitored by a mentor each. At the start, asking questions was very difficult and I did it in an ungainly way, but as I got used to their presence, it was just like nattering with an old friend. We chatted about what their favourite genres of art were, where they get their drive to draw from, how important the volunteers of Mawaheb were to them, about their paintings, how their friendship towards other students were and how much they liked Mawaheb. And every answer was meticulously thought out and admirable. Most importantly, they came from the unfathomable depths of their hearts.
Jacob’s* artwork was by far the stand-out among the artists. Though he could not speak, his paintings were so stunning that some of them were sold in big art exhibitions around Dubai. He is also a very good friend and fan of the Uth Mag! The sensational depiction of Dubai’s skyline including the Burj Khalifa by Khaled* was hung at the topmost part of the art gallery room. The painting was going to be placed in the CEO’s office off a big-shot company. Khaled also told that he derived all his inspiration from the volunteers at Mawaheb. They had been with him right from the time he joined there. Nasser* loved astronomy and painting famous people. When everyone else was weeping in the world, he drew a picture of the Japanese flag in tribute to those who’d died in the earthquake and tsunami that happened recently. He acknowledged Ms. Gulshan not only as his teacher but as his friend too. Lisa* was a very different person to talk with. She actually worked at a hotel in Jumeirah and was also a devout artist at Mawaheb. Flowers were her favourite genre of art and she also admires the music of Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Westlife. She is an ambassador of etiquette and exudes a fondness for children.
The fascination that engulfed me after the visit literally left me aping at dead space for some time. These kids, nay, artists had so much in them to give to society and the world. They leave you hopelessly ruminating for words to describe their passion and dedication to art and in extension, all they did despite their shortcomings. Salutes to the people at Mawaheb too, for bringing out the best in them. It’s time we bring forth their talents and out of the shadowy caves of ignorance and neglect. We are the youth and how can we be termed responsible if we are unable to take care of our own? As I fade out into my own musing, I leave you with some food for thought: We call ourselves Man-kind. Yes, we are Man, but how kind are we ?
(The * indicates that names have been changed to protect true identities)