All things beautiful & special

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All things beautiful & special

Hands & Hearts launches as a celebration of 
special needs students’ 
creative skills in the world of fashion

By Raziqueh Hussain

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Published: Fri 25 Nov 2011, 9:20 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 3:02 AM

“I enjoy doing needlework on dresses and jalabiyas. I find it interesting. Magenta is my favourite colour and I want Shakira to wear a magenta jalabiya. It would really suit her!” claimed Naml, 20, as she sewed a vivid green jalabiya with elaborate embroidery around the neck and wrists with silver threads.

In the next room, Jaco Alvaran, squeezed some baby pink colour ink inside the printer while his partner flattened out a plain white T-shirt under the screen. The machine whirred and the cloth had a stamp on it — ‘Candy hands sweet hearts.’ Once the print was stuck firmly on the cloth, he proudly posed with it and grinned.

A flurry of activity was taking place at the sewing unit of Al Noor Training Centre for Children with Special Needs, with students adding last minute touches to T-shirts, jalabiyas, handbags and murals, all in an effort to raise funds at a fashion event and auction (which took place on November 1) before Her Highness Shaikha Hind Al Qassemi, chairperson of Emirates Businesswomen Council, as well as 500 high-profile guests at the Al Noor centre in Al Barsha.

The ‘Hands & Hearts’ initiative, which aims to highlight the creative talents of the Al Noor children and young adults, is a collaboration between Majid Al Futtaim Fashion (MAF Fashion) and Al Noor students to design and produce a range of products for the fashion event and auction, including a Juicy Couture limited-edition tote bag, a range of clutch handbags, the newly launched IT’SUGAR branded T-shirts, and a limited range of luxury jalabiyas. Among the exclusive pieces that were sold at this auction were also a series of large-scale murals created exclusively by the students.

Eighteen-year-old Aarti, was busy sticking gold crystals on an off-white cream clutch bag. “I like to use bright orange beads on my dresses and handbags. I’m sure my mother would look lovely and beautiful wearing this dress with that clutch,” she said, pointing at a mauve jalabiya while lifting the off-white clutch on which she was embroidering the beadwork.

Saheer, 21, is passionate about cricket and he was happily hemming white threads that were quickly taking the shape of round balls. “That’s because stitching is fun and I would love to stitch clothes for the Indian cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni,” he smiled sheepishly.

According to Isphana Al Khatib, director of Al Noor centre, art activities are crucial for special needs children. “Arts and crafts provide tactile stimulation. Children can touch, poke, squeeze and feel art materials. This kind of activity helps them interact with their physical environment. For special needs children, the process of creating art is more important than the final product,” she emphasised. The pretty pictures that adorned the walls of the corridors at the centre have all been done by the students themselves.

Al Noor has taken the initiative a step further and set up a shop to portray the talents of students. Smiles ‘n’ Stuff at the centre sells craft items that are hand-made by the students: from T-shirts and tea towels to stationery and handbags, there’s a vast array of unique items for shoppers to get their hands on. Chantal Saado, 23, who has Down’s Syndrome, was already employed at the store, and a handful of former students were paid to create products. “I love working here,” she beamed. “I would also like to be a part of the MAF Fashion initiative if I have the time,” she said, as she returned change to a customer who had picked up a tote bag.

The Al Noor centre has been providing skill-based and vocational training to students for the past three decades, with the support of His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of UAE, Ruler of Dubai. Vocational training is split into four areas: carpentry, screen printing (printing logos onto T-shirts and stationery), sewing and baking (the cookies baked and sold are delicious).

“MAF Fashion is an ideal partner to showcase the skills of Al Noor’s students while enabling us to further develop artistic and vocational opportunities for them. Funds raised through the Hands & Hearts initiative will help many of our students get the skills and training to help them integrate into employment opportunities in the UAE,” pointed out Isphana.

Asil Attar, CEO, Majid Al Futtaim Fashion is excited about making this collaboration a long-term one. “The Hands & Hearts event reflects our long-term goals, which are to empower the Al Noor students through investing in their training and supporting their development. Through this passionate collaboration, we aim to enhance their lives by enabling them to gain independence and establish career paths in an exciting retail environment,” she said.

Come January, MAF Fashion’s social responsibility programme will see the business introduce a scheme where young adults with disabilities are given the opportunity to work in a retail environment, starting on a volunteering basis but then empowered through vocational training into a full time position. “The training has already begun for them. We have been giving them objective tasks for five collections of apparel and 25 different evening bags. It’s been challenging for them but they have loved being a part of it and we have also benefitted in the process,” she added.

There is never a right or wrong for doing arts and crafts, and here these children can gain equal footing. “Although not every work will always be worthy of sale or even public display, every child can still feel a sense of worth and accomplishment at what she has created. And this self expression can become a direct link to social interaction and a very concrete way to express themselves,” Ipshana said.

As we prepared to leave the premises, the students at the centre offered plenty of smiles and hugs. Isphana concluded, “Our children have the ability and they have the capability to be active. Please give them a chance.”

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