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Nelson Mandela Day: South African Embassy visits the Al-Kharafi Activity Kids Center
July 20, 2014, 9:36 am
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“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead” – Nelson Mandela

In 2009, the United Nations declared 18 July as the Nelson Mandela International Day in recognition of Mandela’s contribution to the promotion of peace, democracy, freedom and reconciliation. The day is observed to honor his legacy and values through volunteering and community service. However, more than a celebration of Mandela’s life and legacy, the international Nelson Mandela Day is a global movement to inspire individuals to take action to help change the world for the better.

During Mandela Day, all that is required from individuals and organizations is an action that helps change the lives of people for the better. To ensure that our actions have lasting benefits, they should always strive to leave behind not only physical changes but also a sense of empowerment, helping to build pride among individuals and disadvantaged communities so that they can take charge of their destinies and change their circumstances. These positive and cumulative actions of people, even if it is one small step at a time, can establish a transformative momentum, especially during Ramadan, which is a time for individual reflection and is also dedicated to peace and harmony in the world.

Many people and organizations around the world take part in voluntary activities to promote Nelson Mandela Day. These activities hope to inspire people to embrace the values that Mandela shared and to encourage people everywhere to recognize their ability to have a positive effect on others around them. In return for everything Mandela has taught us, we can feel inspired to support his work and legacy by doing and living our own lives as best we can, not just on this day, but throughout our entire lives.

The 2014 Nelson Mandela Day key themes are ‘Education and Literacy’, ‘Shelter and Food Security’ and ‘Participation through Volunteerism’. In line with this theme of international Nelson Mandela Day and keeping in view the spirit of the Holy Month of Ramadan, the South African Embassy called on Kuwaitis and foreign nationals to pay tribute to Mandela’s legacy by volunteering their services to doing good for others for at least 67 minutes — for one for each year of Mandela’s public service. 

For its part, the embassy, headed by Counselor ND Sebothoma, on Thursday, 17 July, engaged in charity activities, and visited the Al Kharafi Activity Kids Centre to show their support for the activities of the Center and to spend time with the children there. The Times Kuwait had the privilege of being invited to be part of the entourage on its visit to the Center. 

The Kharafi Center is a simple, unassuming place that comfortably accommodates children with special needs who fall in the age group of 4 to 13, through its “After School Program”. Girls with special needs between the ages of 13 to 25 are placed under the “Habilitation Program for Girls’.

The Center traces its origins to 1999, when Mrs. Sabeeka Saad al-Jasser presented a project for building an activity center for kids with disabilities to the Awqaf Public Foundation. She strongly believed in the need for such services in society, where a safe and specialized environment can ensure the right to play for all disabled children on a year-round basis. With the support and acknowledgement of the Awqaf Committee, the Ministry of Public affairs and Labor, and the donations of the heirs of the deceased Mohammad Abdulmohsen Al-Kharafi, Mrs. Sabeeka Saad Al-Jasser’s dream became a reality. In February 2005, the Center opened its door and received its first group of children. Since 2010, the Center now runs under the umbrella of Sanad Kuwaiti Foundation for Disabled Children.

Rozan Karam, the Public Relations Officer at the Kharafi Center, welcomed us to the Center and enthusiastically showed us around the place. Taking us to the Art Station she demonstrated why, unlike the creations of restrained, trained mind of a layman, the creativity and art of those specially abled have a special streak of brilliance. Examples of the imagination unleashed by the kids was everywhere to see, from beautifully created artistic pieces  to the brilliant work of  Nada, one of the most artistic among the group, who had decorated her canvas with spoons, forks and knives. Nada gave us a quick smile as she continued giving the final touches to her masterpiece.

The Art Station provides kids with canvas with dotted figures to connect and design. Rozan says that this is an effort to make the kids work within guidelines. You can find woven Japenese Sadus in this room with a finished texture which is quite different from the Kuwaiti Sadu (made from a coarse woolen like material) adds Rozan, while proudly showing us the artistic abilities of the kids. The Center has white and dark sensory rooms with soft floors and vibrating beds, to accustom the kids to changes in the surrounding and build resistance towards it. These sensory rooms, set up in 2005, are a result of the donations by generous people who felt for the noble cause. Another dynamic room is on the way to opening up, with support from Professional Suppliers of UK, which would enable the kids to develop their senses like smell, touch and the feel of a forest, with the help of computerized programs.

Another interesting room at the Center is a multipurpose room which is lit normally. However, when the lights are turned off, bright neon lights fill the room from the walls to the ceiling. It allows the kids to acquaint themselves to changes in their surrounding and adapt to these changes in a way that is fun for them.

Dalia, a chirpy girl in the mini-gym area or playroom for hyperactive kids, insists to the visitors that she is named Ahmed. Her playfulness brings a smile to the visitors and the room blooms with energy as the volunteers join in playing along with the kids.

Boys over the age of 13 are not allowed at the center for activities. So, after 13, these kids are taught to eventually volunteer at the center. Bader, aged over 13, is active at volunteering at the Center and Rozan is proud of his volunteer activities at the Center and in helping out at seminars.  As other kids, quiet happy to have visitors, cheerfully take their hand to show them around the place, Bader quietly prepares to join in a group photograph with the visitors. Specialized consultants from England visit here once or twice a month to teach and train the staff to specialize in handling specially-abled kids. The training varies for different areas and requirements. Makaton Speech Therapy supports people who can hear perfectly but cannot speak due to stroke or other shortcomings. The use of sign language also aids the kids to learn how to speak. Physical therapy and psychotherapy aid is a catalyst for mental and physical development at the Centre.  A well-stocked library remains open throughout the day.

Embassy staff then went around distributing gifts as a token of their love and affection for the kids. The visit ended with the Counselor Sebothoma signing the book of visitors with his comments on his visit and tour of Al Kharafi Activity Kids Center. The Counselor then thanked the Center on behalf of the South African Embassy for providing the opportunity to meet and interact with the kids and for a truly memorable experience. He praised the Centre for its commendable efforts towards the children with special needs, which reflected the true spirit of humanity during the Holy Month of Ramadan and embodied the concept of volunteerism called for by Nelson Mandela Day.

Recollecting the ones who are poor and disadvantaged back in South Africa, the counselor noted that the visit was the beginning of cooperation between Kuwait and South Africa in this field, and an endorsement of the need for encouraging and supporting the needs of children with special needs in the country. Moreover, impressed by the young jacket-clad volunteers, the counselor expressed his interest to seize any opportunity that presented itself to volunteer at the Centre.

- Ghazal Praveen
Staff Writer

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