Hammoud, Umbrellas and Enhancing Lives

Fri, February 03, 2012

While in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates, I was talking with Hammoud about the difference between umbrellas in the U.S. and in his country. Hammoud is a 19-year-old man with autism who lives in a residential program there and he has a particular fascination with umbrellas. We discussed how big they are, what shapes,how they open, what button you press? He even asked me to draw an example. It turned out that umbrellas are umbrellas everywhere.

Then Hammoud told me about his many accomplishments. He is the national bowling champion for the Special Olympics team, loves to go shopping for the weekly food, plays football (not the U.S. version), taught me a few things playing volleyball and he recently went skydiving. When I expressed my amazement (and terror) for the latter, he showed me just how it was done and reassured me that it was safe and said in made him feel free and that even I could do it.

What amazed me about this incredible man, was not all of his many accomplishments, but the sense of pride, self esteem, and sense of adventure he had. As we have been expanding our mission and impact beyond the U.S., we have seen many places with archaic program models for people with disabilities and substandard services. But, we have also come across places like the Al Ain Center for Rehabilitation, where they share YAI's ideals of independence, inclusion, individuality and productivity even though they face a budget crisis, staffing challenges and limited government support. These are sister agencies in our struggle to create a world where every person, regardless of ability, has the opportunity to contribute and partake in society.

Mind you, there still is work to be done there. No answer remains as to what will happen to Hammoud when he reaches 21. Adults services are almost non existent. Imagine what a waste to the community if Hammoud sits around isolated for the rest of his life with no opportunity to continue growing and build on the many skills of indepencence he already has. So we are helping the Al Ain Rehabilitation Center improve their existing services by using our trainings and  expertise and also to shape the future for these children and young adults by creating adults services.

The staff we met there were excellent, friendly and respectful and focused on the happiness of Hammoud and Fatousch and all the others who lived there. We are going to help them build on this foundation by teaching them how to engage in active treatment and they are very enthusiastic to learn. Perry, Fawzi and I are very excited to help them and can't wait to see the progress that is to come.

We also visited a school the center runs. We observed great big colorful bright classrooms, engaged teachers using technology and multi-sensory techniques and, most importantly, children running around happy, playing and expressing themselves. It was just like our schools. Or, just like umbrellas.