A tolerant start
In a series of tweets on New Year’s Eve, leaders of the UAE declared 2019 the Year of Tolerance. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, encouraged continued belief that nothing is impossible.
“As we welcome 2019, we look forward to achieving new hopes, dreams and ambitions in our continued belief that nothing is impossible. I wish the people of the UAE, the Arab region and the world a happy new year filled with peace, tolerance, and compassion.”
His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE’s Armed Forces, praised the collective efforts of the people.
“Delighted at the collective efforts of our people in 2018 and look forward to 2019, the Year of Tolerance. Our people's hard work and dedication helps us march ahead powerfully. We look forward to peace and security prevailing across the world.”
As Abu Dhabi gears up to host the Special Olympics World Games 2019, the UAE is well on its way to achieving a society that is welcoming and prosperous for all. But creating an inclusive society is by no means a new aspiration.
Programs such as the Careers Network Initiative, which provides sustainable employment to people with intellectual disabilities, helps them to make an important and meaningful contribution to society. Many have benefitted from the program and gone on to make a positive impact on mentors, colleagues and customers of the UAE-based companies that they join.
Siblings, Nilofar and Nadim Saleem, know the benefits of this program first hand. Nilofar, who has Down Syndrome, completed a two-year vocational training program at Manzil and is now gainfully employed as a Processor in the Group Operations Department at Emirates NBD.
She’s known for her big smile, infectious laugh and punctuality. In fact, Nilofar’s stellar reputation at work earned her the Best Employee Award. When her father passed away, she became the breadwinner of the family and even assisted with her brother’s school fees.
Nadim Saleem, who also has Down Syndrome, followed in his sister’s footsteps by graduating from Manzil Center and subsequently finding work at Jumeirah Creekside Hotel. Nilofar’s achievements are outstanding and her contributions to her family and local community are immeasurable.
Abu Dhabi’s own Clara Lehmkuhl is the UAE’s first Zumba instructor with Down Syndrome. Affectionately known in the community as Clari, the 27-year-old is living her best life with a long list of certifications that include Zumba B1, Zumba Kids and Zumba Gold. One scroll through her Instagram account, aptly named clari.dance, and you can see how she’s spreading her zest for life and fitness across the country one workshop at a time.
“One of my first jobs was working for an ability centre, and I also worked for NYUAD for four-and-a-half years. I’ve found that Abu Dhabi has been really supportive and have had an easy experience working here,” Clara says.
“I believe that people with disabilities should be included in the workplace and that we have specific roles to fill.”
As a Special Olympics athlete, she has conducted a number of Zumba classes in association with run-up activities to the event. Clara hopes to broaden the scope of her work and introduce Zumba to more people as a professional Zumba instructor when she joins Fitness Express.
Efforts to build an inclusive society aren’t just felt here in the UAE. The National Down Syndrome Society promotes worldwide acceptance of people with Down Syndrome. They also have an employment program called #DSWORKS, which encourages businesses to create meaningful job opportunities for, and hire people with, Down Syndrome.
#DSWORKS has many
like Craig Blackburn who helps the New Orleans Pelicans NBA team by working for their sports equipment team and Trista Kutcher, a barista who loves to make people smile. Inclusion works and becomes more prevalent every time a person of determination is given the tools and support that they need to make their dreams come true.