A place to be just creative
Tender Hearts is a recreational centre for children with special abilities
"Never tell your child he can't." This is the motto, mother of two, Neena Raina, stands by.
"We are launching a sports programme for our students in September and the aim is to one day get to the Olympics. I dream big and I want these children to dream big, too."
Raina is the co-founder of Tender Hearts, Dubai - a recreational centre for kids with special abilities.
As the mother of a child who is differently-abled, Raina and her co-founder, Arti Saraf Khazanchi, struck up a conversation one day about the shortage of centres here for children who simply want to interact with others, on a social level.
"Yes, we have centres for academic learning here, but it was a struggle to find somewhere for my son to just go and be creative, meet other people. That's how Tender Hearts came about," Raina told Khaleej Times.
Want to become a volunteer?
Tender Hearts welcomes volunteers from different walks of life: students, homemakers, teachers, doctors, legal experts, people with years of experience and people with no experience at all. To find out more about the volunteer programme or to apply: log on to www.tenderhearts.ae/volunteers/
Now one year on, the centre has 55 registered students who visit Tender Hearts three times a week, on average.
From yoga to music, and gardening to cooking, each session is one-hour long and costs between Dh80-150 each.
Children of all ages are welcome, and the main aim of the centre is to foster each child's hidden talent.
"We believe every child has talent. Although we are solely a recreational centre, we have a balance of academics and social learning."
Emphasising that it is imperative to challenge mindsets, Raina and Khazanchi said if a child is having problems learning, "expose them to something else, something creative."
And sadly, they said it is often the parents who are the hardest ones to penetrate when it comes to exposing their child to creative learning.
"There is a kind of cloud. Too often the focus is that the child should go to a therapist or a special needs school. But activity has a huge impact on social development," Khazanchi said.
During their 12 months in operation, the duo have seen many children grow from aggressive, frustrated individuals, to confident, independent peers - and the aim is to continue this cycle of positivity.
Meet the volunteers
Alric Joseph, 15, Ambassador School Dubai
"Our vice-principal told us about the volunteering opportunity at Tender Hearts. I've never worked with kids before in this environment, so I thought why not do something for a good cause. I've learnt that we need to treat these students with patience, but we shouldn't treat them any different to anyone else."
Ashath Inamdar, 15, Ambassador School Dubai
"Being a volunteer has given me a chance to make the most of my spare time. It has really helped foster my own personal development. I've learnt how to better approach these children and they have taught me so much too, like how to enter every situation with an open mind."
Mohammed Salman, 15, Ambassador School Dubai
"This is my second time volunteering at a centre for children who are differently-abled. Now aged 15, I feel more prepared and better equipped to interact with these children. I know more about their psychology now. I come into this centre happy, and I leave even happier."
Elan Fazal, 15, Ambassador School Dubai
"These children just want someone to talk to. I find the summer months can be quite boring here so I thought why not do something constructive with my time. It has been a difficult journey at times, but these children have taught me to be kind and passionate."
Akamsha Abraham, 15, Ambassador School Dubai
"My grandmother worked with differently-abled children and I too love working in this field. In the future I want to work as a speech and language therapist for children like this. A big lesson I have learnt here is to not get too attached to a student as it can be emotionally hard on the student when the time comes to leave them."
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