A sports club has changed the lives of more than 120 people with disabilities in Ras al Khaimah since opening last year, its members have said.
RAK Club for People of Determination was founded in November 2017 after an Emiri decree issued by Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Ruler of Ras al Khaimah, to establish a facility that offers sports, cultural and social activities to the disabled.
The club offers sports training, including table tennis, badminton, cycling, shot-put, football and basketball, along with social and cultural activities and it is all free of charge.
Its members are already competing and willing in UAE events and are setting their sights on every more ambitious targets.
The club's growing success comes at a time when disability and special needs are increasingly the focus of recognition and financial investment, and ahead of the Special Olympics World Games in 2019 in Abu Dhabi.
“My life before joining the club was boring and meaningless. The club made me feel important and changed my life for the better,” said Jawaher Ibrahim, 20, an Emirati with a hearing impairment.
Ms Ibrahim won a gold medal in javelin at a recent championship and also participates in 100-metre race competitions.
“Spending time at the club along with other members has made me feel strong and not alone. I was not sure of my capabilities at first, but the coaches trained me and taught me how to become a professional,” she said.
“I can’t imagine my life now without the club, the staff or the members. We are all now a big, strong family,” said Ms Ibrahim.
Some 120 with different disabilities, mainly learning difficulties and physical and hearing-impairments, joined the club from different nationalities and age groups. Seventy per cent of them are men and the rest women.
“I feel important, enthusiastic and powerful,” said Saeed Al Shehi, an Emirati cyclist, 23, with an intellectual disability, describing how he feels when pacing on his bike.
Mr Al Shehi participated in the Special Olympics IX MENA Games 2018 in Abu Dhabi and was awarded two gold medals and one bronze.
The club opens six evenings a week, split into days for men and women.
Wafa Al Dahmani, an Emirati, 24, who has paralysis in her legs after having polio as a young child, said that the club made her more open and outgoing.
“I get excited every week to go to the club. It changed my perspective on life and the coaches helped me discover what I’m good at,” said Ms Al Dahmani, who is a javelin thrower and a law graduate.
“Sport gives you strength, power, and determination. It makes me challenge myself every day. I learned sign-language, too, which helped me communicate with my deaf friends,” she said.
“Being disabled didn’t stop me from moving forward. I believe in myself and in my capabilities — my dream is to be the number one javelin thrower in the world.”
One of the club's table tennis champions, who has won two gold medals and one silver at various championships, said that he wouldn’t have had accomplished anything without the help and guidance of the club.
“I spend my time either at home or at the club. Before the club, it was just home and that was so boring with only a few things to do,” said Khaled Al Shahi, an Emirati, 26, with an intellectual disability.
“The club introduced me to a whole new world and encouraged me to upgrade my skills in table tennis and discover my true passion, I’m always practicing to achieve the highest levels and aiming to be a world player and a role model to people like me,” he said.
The club is located at Khalifa Bin Zayed Stadium next to RAK Sports and Cultural Club.
Mohammed Al Shimaili, head of the sports committee, said that they received a plot of land from the Ruler of RAK last month and they will start preparing to extend the club to be able to take on 300 members.
“We only have one hall and a limited number of sports equipment and facilities. Sometimes other clubs lend us their badminton net, while others offer for us to practice at their facility,” he said.
“After receiving this great gift for the Ruler, we can now start planning for the new club, which might be ready in 2020 if we get the right financial support."