When Hamda Al Hosani took her place among UAE Paralympic Games team members this week at the Sea Palace, and waited to receive a personal congratulations from Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, she was in her element.
A dedicated athlete, Hamda loves being around people. She enjoys laughing with them, talking to them and competing against them in the Paralympics. In fact, her least favourite thing in the world, says her mother Zafaraneh, is being cooped up at home away from the company of others.
“It’s shameful, really shameful,” says Zafaraneh, who has lived in the Al Rahba area of Abu Dhabi her entire life.
“It’s haram [forbidden] when parents who have a child with special needs decides to ignore that child and just lock them up at home. If you invest in your child, no matter their abilities, there is no doubt they will thrive and be able to be members of society. Anything less than that is cruel.”
Zafaraneh has 11 children – seven girls and four boys. Her youngest is 22. Two of her girls – Hamda and Mariam – were born with special needs.
“I don’t label what they have, and it’s not physical, it’s a mental issue,” she explains.
“They take medication and they rely on their treatment but that’s not what helps them the most. It’s their sports and their love of sports that makes the real difference.”
Both sisters are athletes who, with their mother’s help, focused their lives around their participation in sports and in Paralympic-type competitions.
Hamda, 25, has a natural talent for any sport she tackles, and she’s tried them all – badminton, equestrian, running and basketball.
“She loves bowling, too,” says Zafaraneh. “Sometimes it feels like we live in Zayed Sports City’s bowling area because we are there almost every afternoon. But her sister, Mariam, is the true bowling champion in the family.”
The 24-year-old Mariam’s latest wins were at the Special Olympics Poland in October and November.
There she competed in both bowling and bocce – an Italian game similar to bowling but using a much smaller ball and played on a shorter, narrower green area or asphalt. She came home with a gold medal.
Hamda’s focus is on running and basketball – two sports she trains in daily, every afternoon.
Recently, says Zafaraneh, Hamda has been showing an interest in cycling.
Almost every morning both sisters attend classes at the Zayed Special Needs Foundation in Al Mafraq.
“That’s where Hamda discovered music and learnt how to play the keyboard,” Zafaraneh says.
Music is another of Hamda’s passions.
“She is a human being, and like anyone else she has likes and dislikes and preferences and passions,” Zafaraneh says.
“If I don’t provide her with the opportunities to discover what these things are and the exposure to things she might excel at, and I provide that to her siblings, then what kind of mother would I be?”
These days, Hamda is a regular at jewellery-making workshops hosted by the foundation.
“I love it,” she says, her voice low but confident. “I like to work with my hands and I learnt how to cut silver and brass. We make pretty jewellery and we sell it in the markets to raise money for the foundation. I like to do it more than my sister.”
Zafaraneh cannot stress enough how much pride she has in her girls when she sees how much they can accomplish with just a little bit of support.
In August, the sisters went to Los Angeles to take part in the Special Olympics World Games with athletes from 75 countries and regions participating.
“They loved it, they were so happy and did so well even out of their comfort zone,” says Zafaraneh, who made the trip to California with her girls.
“They were social and made friends from all over the world. I was so happy watching them.”
Hamda came home with two gold medals, and this month she was among the group of athletes who met Sheikh Mohammed.
The UAE team participated in 12 of 20 events at the Los Angeles Games, winning 32 medals – 14 gold, nine silver and nine bronze.
At the meeting with Sheikh Mohammed on Monday, Zafaraneh was beaming with pride when she saw the Crown Prince congratulating Hamda.
“I am going to frame that picture and hang it at the entrance of our home.”
The key factor in helping her daughters to overcome their disabilities and thrive in life, she believes, is their involvement in sport.
“They can’t sit still. Being involved in sports keeps them active and focused and I think it’s like therapy for them.”
These days both sisters are rigorously training – mornings and afternoons – to take part in the 7th Fazza 2016 IPC Powerlifting World Cup, February 15 to 19 at the Dubai Club for the Disabled.
Athletes from at least 36 countries are expected to participate.
“The girls haven’t decided yet what areas they will compete in because they like to do everything,” says Zafaraneh.
February until May, she says, is a busy time for the pair because there are a multitude of competitions across the UAE for them to take part in.
“They enjoy being competitive and it gives them a purpose to always be working towards improving their time or their technique or just their participation in a sport.”
Zafaraneh says in her household there is no favouritism when it comes to her children, no “normal” versus “abnormal”. But she does not deny that Hamda and Mariam hold a special place in her heart.
“My two girls are my two eyes,” she says, her voice breaking.
“I invested in them and look where they got to, look how well they are doing. As long as I live, I will serve them and encourage them and stand by them.”
Zafaraneh hopes that parents who have children with special needs realise how much unconditional love, support and encouragement can help a child with a disability, instead of neglect or indifference.
“Let them find something they love to do, something they can develop and excel at so they feel they are part of this world,” she says.
“Why should they feel they are lacking? They are not. Nothing is missing in their lives.
“They can be social and have passions and be like any other person. So what if they need a bit of medication? Let them take it, and let them be part of our society.”
Source: art & life