Souk markets more than crafts

There's more on display than handicrafts at one of the newest shops in Sharjah's historic Al Arsa souk.

Badriyah Essah displays her handicrafts at the new shop in Al Arsa souk.
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SHARJAH // There's more on display than handicrafts at one of the newest shops in Sharjah's historic Al Arsa souk. The shop was set up by Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services (SCHS) to sell crafts and products made by young people with physical or mental disabilities, and each item on sale is a testament to their creativity and talent.

The SCHS, one of the country's oldest charities, hopes the shop will reduce some of the stigma associated with people with special needs. "We want to try and make people see that those with special needs are just like other people," said Khadeja Ahmed, the assistant director of SCHS. "When you work with them you can see their confidence growing, so it is very good to see the things they made being appreciated by others. The children and young people have all overcome challenges and we can learn from them."

About 100 of the more than 2,000 youngsters under SCHS care attended the shop's opening on Wednesday where they met some of their first customers. The event was attended by Sheikha Jameela Bint Mohammed Al Qassimi, the SCHS director general and vice president of the Sharjah Family Supreme Council, which oversees the charity. On sale were photograph frames, children's wooden toys, pottery, tapestries, patchwork notebooks, candles and lampshades, all made in the SCHS school, which also takes custom orders.

Mohammad Fawzi Yousef, the head of the physical and occupational therapy section at SCHS, said the perception of people with disabilities was changing thanks to projects such as the shop. "It shows everybody that these people are able to do something," he said. "They are a valued and effective part of the community. In the past, they were maybe neglected and kept away from society, now this is not the case."

One of the main aims of the SCHS, which was founded in 1979 and works with young people of all nationalities up to 25 years of age, is to bridge "the gap between the disabled and the rest of society". It provides care services, training, education, rehabilitation and job placement. Fiona Jack, an SCHS volunteer, said in addition to raising awareness, the process of producing handiwork was also therapeutic.

"It is a fantastic idea because not only are the children working, it is also an outlet for their feelings which they ordinarily wouldn't have." The shop, which is manned by SCHS staff and young people from the service's care centre, is open in the mornings and evenings. All of the profits are channelled back into funding SCHS services.