Inspiring Icons Insights
INTEGRATION COMES WITH INCLUSION
By: Sangeeta Maheshwari
Certified Metaphysics Practioner
Author | Inner Growth & Happiness Mentor
Manzil stems from Urdu, meaning ‘destination; a place of desire’ where one finds their peace and happiness. Fourteen years ago, Dr. Ayesha Husaini found her Manzil by setting up a center in Sharjah for people with disabilities.
Ayesha’s strong educational background in Psychology and Social Work from India, with a Ph.D. in ‘Inclusion’ from the University of Sheffield, makes her stand tall and firm as the founder and director of Manzil- a center for people with Disabilities.
A savior for many parents and children with special needs who benefitted by Ayesha’s initiative of setting up the Special Families Support (SFS) group in UAE in 1999. SFS became a platform for the families to express, vent and get support and solutions for their problems. This was the first support group for families having individuals with a disability in UAE almost 20 years ago.
Ayesha started the SFS group from a small number in a house to numbers that had to be accommodated in parks or hotel ballrooms.
The main purpose of this group was to move the perception of society at the time from shame or sympathy to dignity and empathy. This was the genesis of Manzil which she later set up as a training center to incorporate people with disabilities in the workforce in order for them to live a life of self-respect, dignity, and independence.
Her TV show ‘Ask Ayesha’ has been prominently featured in several countries. She has also won several prestigious awards in the UAE and MENA region which include the Princess Haya Award for Special Education for the Outstanding Director category and the more recent award presented by the British Council for the Highest Social Impact in the MENA region amongst other honors.
However, this humble, elegant and gracious giver has deep compassion and focus on ‘how to convert disability into strength’. She balances her emotions and objectivity to strengthen her vision to empower the special children into independent respected adults.
Her goal is to integrate them into mainstream society. She has worked tirelessly almost 18 hours a day and has conducted meetings even when she was unwell and hospitalized.
The seed sprouted when she was eight.
Ayesha recalls her first turning point when she was eight years old living in Mumbai. She saw a cobbler’s kids fight over a piece of onion and bread lying on the floor. This created a deep shift in her and led to her active desire to give. As a teenager, she read to the blind and later educated women in the slums near Delhi.
As a child, her exposure to disability was close to nothing. In fact, the first time she interfaced with Down syndrome was when she was nineteen years old. Those days in India, special needs education was separate from mainstream schooling. A twenty-year-old girl with Down syndrome had lost her way from her special unit and landed in Ayesha’s class. The students in Ayesha’s class shrieked as if they had seen an alien and jumped away fearfully to one corner. To this Ayesha got really upset and instantly reached out to walk this special girl to her class. After a reflective walk back to her classroom when Ayesha looked into the girl’s eyes, it transformed her.
“It was a short walk to the classroom but the longest journey of my life.”
Ayesha still gets emotional talking about her.
Ayesha decided to change her subjects from Banking and Economics to Psychology soon thereafter. She has not looked back since and she is determined to see an inclusive future.
Ayesha stands for inclusion, however, she feels a little saddened by the typecast image society all over the world hold towards social workers.
She is immensely grateful to the many hundreds of volunteers who have come forward as individuals and corporations to help Manzil grow and expand to heal the families and individuals.
Whilst investors have been impressed by the work, vision and passion Ayesha has had and wished to support her for the cause. Some refrained from giving financial support when they saw her leaving in her chauffeur driven car, ‘she does not need help’ they said.
Manzil is Ayesha’s passion, vision and goal, however a separate identity from her. Manzil has been set up by Ayesha to run independently supervised by external board members and trustees who approve important decisions.
While she has her family’s unconditional support she also wishes to participate with their joys and preferences.
“Human nature is such that, God forbid if there is one mistake despite best of intentions, the reaction is quite unforgiving despite all the good deeds done in the past.”
But then her love and compassion to touch the lives of so many children who need her, keeps her going.
1. Follow your inner calling and find your purpose.
2. Believe in your purpose and fulfill your purpose passionately.
3. To live a balanced life we have to broaden our thinking of balancing joys in our life with the joys of giving to others.
4. We do not need to be in deprivation in order to make a difference in others' lives.
5. Let us not judge our selves and others and let us try to be more tolerant and embrace differences.
Ayesha is immensely grateful to the growth and gets emotional with joy and pride to see Manzil children working in Banks and Hotels with dignity and respect.
I personally volunteer at Manzil and conduct monthly workshops with the children, staff, and parents and witness the love, compassion, and inclusion in the air.
Just like Ayesha found her Manzil, each one of us has a ‘deep desire’ and that is our manzil either still as a seed or perhaps growing like a plant.
Manzil Centre for People with Disabilities is a non-profit centre dedicated to making a difference to the lives of people with special needs in the UAE.