Class act: Children with special needs move away from the margin by drawing in it

Published: December 10, 2011

A participant asks his competitor to be quiet so that he can continue working on his art piece. Special children from different schools took part in an art compeititon organised by the Network of Organisations Working for People with Disabilities Pakistan. PHOTO: NEFER SEHGAL/EXPRESS

KARACHI: A seven-year-old boy asked the people around him to observe pin drop silence so he could concentrate on his masterpiece for the art competition organised by the Network of Organisations Working for People with Disabilities in Pakistan (NOWPDP).

The boy continued to work on his sketches as the people around him complied by lowering their voices and picking up different art supplies to work on their pieces.

There were around 200 children with disabilities who took part in the competition at the Noor-e-Ali Trust Park in Block 2, Clifton, on Friday. The event was a child’s dream come true – water paints, oil paints, crayons – every imaginable art supply was kept in front of them ready to be used.

The NOWPDP had organised the event to highlight the fact that there were nearly 16 million people with disabilities in the country. They brought together special children to celebrate their creativity on the International Day for Persons with Disabilities. The organisation’s executive officer, Jeremy Higgs, told The Express Tribune that the 23 schools had nominated around 10 students for the competition. “In addition to such competitions, NOWPDP brings together some 200 disability organisations based in Pakistan to work towards an inclusive and barrier-free society,” he said. “The organisation creates employment opportunities for the disabled and also works with teachers to improve the quality of education.”

Higgs is an Australian and had been working for disabled children in Pakistan.

As the competition kicked off, the participants turned away from the ruckus and started working on their art pieces with a steely determination.

Syed Ahsan Ali, 18, was busy bringing a beautiful landscape to life. He won the bronze medal for the 25-metre freestyle swimming in the Special Olympic Summer Games 2011 in Athens. Apart from studying, Ahsan also works for Special Olympics for Pakistan where he helps teachers in their routine work for a mere Rs5,000.

A quiet and gentle Raveed Ahmed from the SCS Bahria School stunned everyone with his colourful art piece. His painting was about a young boy meditating under a tree. There was a swirl of colours around him which made it look like he had reached nirvana.

Twenty-five-year-old Shahmir Mangi from Imran Rehabilitation Centre was not interested in painting – he wants to become a radio jockey. He had even recorded his own show on his cell phone. “I am crazy about this profession,” he said in a sad voice. “But nothing has happened so far. I have even done a course in radio broadcasting.”

Mangi has a learning disorder which makes it quite difficult for him to pick up how to write and read in conventional ways. However, he can copy repeated audio-visual patterns and can speak in English. “I went to auditions for five radio stations,” he said. “But I have not heard anything yet.”

Wearing bright yellow t-shirts, around 14 volunteers were running everywhere. Some were busy helping children with their work while others were busy with the organisers. “I felt guilty that that I did not do anything for my maternal uncle who passed away because of thalassemia,” said Waqas-ul Asad, a student from the Institute of Business Management. “Working with disabled children helps me deal with the guilt.” He added that he had bunked class so that he could volunteer for the cause. Sarah Haider, another volunteer, said that this was her way to thank God.

NOWPDP President Amin Hashwani told The Express Tribune that the these competitions were a place for the children to express themselves.

Artists Jimmy Engineer and Naheed Raza were judging the event. “The lives of these children cannot be changed by sitting in conference rooms at five-star hotels,” said Engineer. “In order to bring about a change we need to go to them. Although we call them special, we hardly give them our special attention.”

Arshad, Maimoona and Kamran from the Deaf Reach School won the first three prizes.

Special Education Adviser Imtiaz Ahmed Shaikh distributed the prizes and announced that the winners would also get Rs10,000.

The event concluded with performances by the students from the JS Academy for the Deaf. Particularly popular with the audience was their rocking performance to a song by R&B singer Akon.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 10th, 2011.

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