We are not isolated now, say parents of disabled.
Family is important but the support that a family needs from the society is what we get through these groups. (Supplied photo)
When Pakistani expat Hanifa received a call from her home country on her sister's death, she wondered if she could ever make it to the funeral, as she has two children who couldn't be left alone.
Yet, not only did she manage to attend the funeral but extended her stay in Pakistan.
It was her support group that came to the rescue. While one member of the group volunteered to stay with her kids and take care of them, another lady from the group sent homemade food, while some others took them on outings.
For expats with children of determination, the sense of alienation doubles as they struggle to cope with the new environment in a new place where they do not have family, friends or any kind of support system. This is where support groups play an important role, in connecting them with others in similar situations to share their hopes, strengths and challenges.
Gulshan Kavarana, co-founder of the Special Families Support group, said: "We organise outings for families with young children of determination, once a month. We take them to different places such as water parks, beaches, play areas or movies where the children and their families meet and interact. They share their problems and comfort each other.
"The aim of a support group is to connect families with determined children to others in similar situations and give them hope, love, respect and happiness. We recently celebrated 18 years of our support group." One active member, Meena, who has started a mothers' support group called Super Moms, said: "I have started a group which gives us a network that helps us mothers meet and communicate with each other in order to deal with our situations. We plan activities to keep our determined children engaged at home, because we cannot take them out every day. We don't have time to make friends so we get to interact with others through such a support group. We not only discuss our problems or coping strategies but share some light moments. In a way, it de-stresses us. "
Sharan, 26, who said he went through depression after being struck with a rare muscle weakening disease a few years ago, said: "I came to this support group SFS very reluctantly, as I was feeling too low and shy. But when I joined this group, I felt loved and wanted. Everyone wanted to talk to me and be my friend. Over the years, even as my physical situation deteriorated due to the disease, I have managed to stay happy and calm and have a lot of friends now. I want to tell everyone out there that there is hope in life, so don't give up so easily."
Zahra Khumri, born with dwarfism, has been in the UAE since 2006 and after she saw her child get bullied for having the same condition, she started a support group 'Little people of the UAE'.
"Whenever we took our daughter for an outing, we could see people turning and kids laughing at her. Instead of explaining to their kids what dwarfism is, parents just hush them. With such groups, we can connect with those in the same situation. Family is important but the support that a family needs from the society is what we get through these groups," she said.
An important role support groups play lies in creating awareness among different sections of society, about the needs of families having members with special needs. "There is a need to educate society about the various syndromes and disabilities and how to deal with a situation when they are confronted with such a child in public," Kavarana added.
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