Dubai schoolgirl with Down syndrome aspires to make runway more inclusive

Amanda Dsilva, 19, has been featured by Coega Sunwear and is shortlisted for an assignment by Huda Beauty

Dubai school pupil Amanda Dsilva is pursuing her passion for modelling. Antonie Robertson / The National
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A Dubai schoolgirl with Down syndrome is shooting for success as a fashion model.

Amanda Dsilva, 19, has already been featured by Dubai-based Coega Sunwear and is shortlisted for an assignment by Huda Beauty.

She is also modelling for an outlet supporting people with disabilities as she embarks on what she hopes will be a fruitful career in front of the camera.

Down syndrome is a genetic condition which typically affects learning development and physical features.

“I love to pose. I love the camera,” said Amanda, a Year 13 student at Gems Winchester School, Dubai, who is from Mumbai, India.

Her mother Anita Dsilva says Amanda wants to inspire others and show there are no limits to what you can achieve.

“We keep underestimating them. They have a lot of capabilities. Even as a mother, I think I underestimated Amanda. But she surprises me every day,” Ms Dsilva, who works as an office administrator, told The National.

Her husband Patrick is a stay-at-home dad. The couple have an older daughter, Amber, 22, who works in Canada.

Speaking about Amanda’s passion for modelling, Ms Dsilva said her daughter is a “natural”.

“She enjoys it a lot. She wants to pursue a career in modelling, if agencies are willing to include children like her.”

She feels there are very few companies that fully embrace inclusivity, and has called for change.

She said Amanda was lucky to find a modelling agency — Dubai-based Mariam George Agency — that promotes diversity and body positivity.

“There is a lot being said and done. But the ground reality is different,” said Ms Dsilva.

“If it weren’t modelling, which is her passion, I don’t think there are many opportunities for children like her.

“They do not get the opportunity to go out, find work and prove themselves. I don't see much of that. We can do a lot more for them.”

Teen flourishes at school

Recounting her struggles to get Amanda a school admission in Dubai several years ago, Dsilva said, “It was very, very difficult.

“She started in a mainstream school when she was 6. She wasn’t happy there as she was secluded. She used to lock herself in the washroom. She would cry to go to school. For three years, I was knocking at every door for admissions, and no luck.”

Ms Dsilva said she was finally referred to the Winchester School by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, the Dubai government department that oversees the private education sector.

Amanda has bloomed under the support and care from teachers, students and management of the school, her mother said.

“She has never faced bullying or harassment. Instead, they motivate and encourage her,” Ms Dsilva said.

“My daughter has come a long way from a shy, timid girl who did not like noise or the presence of other people.

“I am sure other children have difficulties. But if we give them our guidance, support and most importantly, our patience, they can come a long way.”

Updated: October 31, 2022, 4:00 AM