Chocolate-making is a popular class at a Fujairah rehabilitation centre

A special needs centre in Fujairah is churning out superior chocolates, all made by the young Emirati students taking the popular workshop.

Only the best-quality ingredients are used for the chocolate-making workshops at Fujairah Rehabilitation Center for the Disabled. Mohammed Al Neyadi / The National
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At first glance, Fujairah Rehabilitation Center for the Disabled seems like any other of its kind in the UAE. But walk through the building and you’ll find a room full of Emirati girls hard at work, making chocolate. Jars of Nutella, hazelnuts, coconut powder and toffee cover a giant table in the centre of the room while the delicious smell of chocolate fills the air.

“When I was appointed to manage the centre, I wanted my students to do something unusual,” says Aysha Al Najjar, the principal. “It had to attract people’s attention, not their sympathy.”

A success story

The centre’s chocolate workshop became functional six years ago with 16 students currently being trained there.

“Between the ages of 4 and 14, students are taught reading, writing and cleanliness,” says Al Najjar. “After this, they can choose what they want to do. We have a number of other courses such as organic farming, designing posters for advertisements and archiving. But the most popular one now is the chocolate workshop.”

Al Najjar ensures that the chocolate is made only from the finest ingredients imported from Belgium and France and the meticulously created confectionery, named Tasneem (fountain of paradise), has become popular: sometimes there is an inordinate number of customers seeking chocolate, but the centre is more than up to the task. Batches are made to order and the chocolate is always fresh.

The centre’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed by government agencies, the media and the public. In 2009, it won the Dh100,000 Khalifa Award for Education; recently, it received an anonymous donation of Dh100,000.

Little pleasures

“At other centres, students are trained to do things like crochet, candle-making and jewellery design,” explains Al Najjar. “But most people do not consider buying such hand-crafted items.”

Al Najjar decided to introduce chocolate-making after a field trip where, during lunch in a hotel, she saw the students crowded around a chocolate fountain.

“When I saw the joy on their faces as they watched the flowing chocolate, the thought of starting a workshop came to me,” she says.

The course supervisor Ihtisab Al Shareef, from Syria, says: “Disability doesn’t mean inability. I enjoy working with these girls even if I have to be patient and repeat the steps a number of times.”

Integrate and accept

Arab culture, Al Najjar explains, places a lot of importance on such institutions and the needy, therefore facilities for the disabled are given special attention. But, at the same time, they can also be alienated from society. She recounts the story of a blind man who asked the Prophet ­Mohammed if he could be exempt from attending the congregational prayer at the mosque and pray at home instead. The Prophet turned down his request and encouraged the man to visit the mosque and mingle with his fellow worshippers. Highlighting the importance of integration, Al Najjar says her mission is to help the disabled find a place in society and points out that there are only a few job opportunities available for people with disabilities.

“The shame associated with mentally disabled children is another problem in this region,” says Al Najjar. “Considering the limited opportunities available to them, my aim is to one day convert the workshop into a chocolate factory and create employment ­opportunities.

“My students do a great job,” she says proudly. “The word impossible has no place in our dictionary.”

• Tasneem Chocolates cost from Dh5. To place an order, call 050 390 9061

Watch a video of the students making chocolate here