People with intellectual disabilities are being given the opportunity to develop their independence.
People with special needs are carving out careers in carpentry – and using their new-found skills to lift up others with disabilities.
Workshops operated by the Zayed Higher Organisation for People of Determination in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain are hives of activity for 20 students keen to cement a sense of purpose.
They spend their days crafting everything from park benches to bespoke chessboards for the blind.
The workers are currently producing coffee cabinets and shelves to stock the Quran for the General Authority of Islamic Affairs, known as Awqaf.
The workshop as the government urges schools, communities and employers to become more inclusive and provide to people with disabilities new skills and jobs.
Soon the workshop will set about making 1,500 canes for imams.
“It is a Sunnah (prophetic tradition) for the imam to hold a cane while preaching the Friday sermon,” said Ahmad Al Hamadi, a vocational trainer at ZHO’s workshop in Bani Yas, Abu Dhabi.
“We are teaching our students how to do woodwork and to put the products together piece by piece.
“We start with small objects, and once they are better at it they move on to create bigger things like furniture.
“Our plan is to make the students independent so we teach them and guide them until they are able to do the work themselves and eventually work in the market or start their own carpentry business; of course we will continue to support them as much as we can.”
The workshop has also been receiving orders for tissue boxes, engraved traditional boxes and chessboards for the blind.
“The board has holes in it so blind players could identify the sequence of the boxes,” said Mr Al Hamadi.
One of the young carpenters, Saleh Al Hatroush, stood carefully fixing the screw on an almost-finished cabinet.
“I feel happy at the workshop,” said the 16-year-old, “because I am working.”
He started learning carpentry one year ago, and used to train at the metal workshop before.
“But I like it more here, I set up the shelves of a cabinet today,’ he said.
“My favourite work is sanding the wood.”
Even the safety mask could not conceal Ammar Al Mansouri’s smile as he shaved a piece of wood.
“I am so happy, I can do this for 30 minutes, I just keep going,” said the 32-year-old.
At a table in the centre of the workshop, a group of boys split tasks: one used the drill, the other shaved the wood while another applied the metal pieces that will hold the wood.
“They mostly suffer from Down syndrome. Their abilities vary so we give each a task based on his level,” said Mr Al Hamadi.
“Some can handle electric devices and some cannot.
“The main age group is 15 to 25, because after 25 we expect the student to graduate from here and start working independently.”
Saif Al Junaibi said as much as he loves his job there he is longing “to find work outside”.
“I have been here for one year, I feel happy when I work here and I love to drill every day,” he said.
“And I want to go somewhere else and have a job,” said the 24-year-old.
The role of the workshop is not limited to practical productions; it has a creative side as well.
An eye-catching chair sits at a corner next to the door.
“This was produced here and exhibited at Abu Dhabi Art,” said Tharwat Ali, another trainer at ZHO.
Decorative garden benches and tables also produced by ZHO’s team lie under a cherry blossom tree by the café outside the main reception, offering more evidence of talent starting to bloom.
The cafe itself is also fully staffed by young men with special needs
“In the UAE today, anyone who has the desire to work can work. The country has provided job opportunities for all categories,” said Abdullah Al Shehhi, vocational trainer at ZHO.