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Making trash into treasure.

After last year's huge success, the Art for Autism Awareness event has returned to include, enable and inspire children of all ages to reach their potential to mark Autism Awareness month, writes Kristian Harrison.

The Trash to Treasure event is themed around T-shirt up-cycling to highlight how we can include the environment in our actions.

It continues today from 4pm-6pm and will end tomorrow from 9am-11am in the Central Atrium on the second floor of Harbour Gate in the Bahrain Financial Harbour.

Secondhand, damaged and unwanted T-shirts will be transformed by participants into a 5m x 1.5m artwork designed by volunteer artists Bahraini Mohammed Mirza Ali Taha and Madu Sarda from Nepal.

Children can also make bags, toys and other items out of unwanted T-shirts. The event highlights the 20th anniversary of the RIA Institute Bahrain, an inclusive education centre in Adliya that caters to the needs of students with special needs.

Set up in 1999 by singer Christine Gordon and her husband, Dr Emad El-Attar, a chemist and fellow musician, it has grown from humble beginnings with seven youngsters to an operation catering for between 70 and 140 students.

"Reflecting on 20 years, it's really a wake-up call because how we started out was like climbing Mount Everest," Christine, now director of student services at RIA told GulfWeekly earlier. "We are almost at the top but you know what happens when you get to the top, people can get too complacent and crash and burn on the way down. We still have to remember what our mission is and that is to build an inclusive society."

The attendees, aged two to 23, are assisted by a team of 17 trained and certified staff members. RIA last year moved to a two-storey villa featuring a garden, an outdoor play area, a swimming pool, seven classrooms and a kitchen.

Since its inception, more than 1,500 families have been helped by its services. "I think people would be shocked if I told them how 20 years ago, people didn't want to mix their children with other kids that were differently abled," added Christine, a mother-of-three, whose son, Othmann, now 23, is autistic.

"I was determined that parents would not experience the trauma that I had when my son was kicked out of pre-school because he was different. Honestly, I should thank the lady who did it really, because without her, I wouldn't have been so dedicated to educating others and enabling my son and other students with disabilities to merge into society and not care what people think. Now, it makes me proud to see people with disabilities being allowed to get access to mainstream education and skill-based training."

Sarah Clarke, one of the organisers of the event, said: "We all have unique abilities which we are celebrating this week.

"Thank you to the management and staff of the Harbour Gate, especially CEO of the BFH Holding company Angus Campbell, for their ongoing support in hosting this event and our sponsors BMMI and Wildabout Art and supporters Cactus and Paint & Palette."

Also during the event, visitors can paint and draw part of a collage will celebrates inclusivity and includes three camels -- a mother, father and child. Sarah explained: "Art speaks when words fail, and through this fun T-shirt upcycling event we hope to convey that message.

"At the same time, we want to show how we can minimise our impact on the environment -- it takes 2,700 litres of water to make one T-shirt -- that's enough for one person to drink for 900 days!

"So each choice we make about the T-shirts we buy and discard cumulatively has a big impact on our collective environmental footprint. We all have a T-shirt with a hole in it, a mark on it, that's faded or out of style or just plain ugly -- think before you just leave it at the back of your wardrobe and go and buy another one."

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Publication:Gulf Weekly
Date:Apr 10, 2019
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