Saudi mother makes inclusion of children with special needs her mission

Hibah Shata, fourth from left, receives a Cartier Women’s Initiative award this year for her work to educate young people with special needs. (Supplied)
Updated 25 October 2019
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Saudi mother makes inclusion of children with special needs her mission

  • Dubai-based entrepreneur has created three enrichment centers since 2007
  • Global median rate of autism prevalence is estimated by WHO at 62 per 10,000

DUBAI: Parents want to give their children the best possible start in life, but having a child with special needs can make the job a lot harder.

Hibah Shata chose to embrace the challenges of having a daughter with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), going on to build an inclusive educational institute where any young person with special needs can acquire the skills required to make their way in the world.

The three enrichment centers she has created since 2007 have helped hundreds of children to access mainstream schools in the UAE, equipped dozens of teachers with inclusion skills and raised awareness of developmental disorders across the region.

Her efforts made her one of seven laureates from around the world to win the Cartier Women’s Initiative award this year.

Shata, a Saudi dentist who moved to Dubai in 2001, said that her decision to go into business took shape the moment doctors advised her to find a special nursery while she awaited a definitive diagnosis for her then 15-month-old daughter’s condition.

Shata’s research drove her to look for applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy and early intervention, which is considered the best evidence-based practice in preparing autistic children for mainstream schools.

Most clinics she spoke to had long waiting lists, and the country’s special needs centers at the time served both mild and complex cases without an academic curriculum.




Hibah Shata has created three UAE centers for children with special needs.  (Supplied photo)

“I had to make a hard choice between moving to another country or staying and doing something to support her and other children. I decided to open an early intervention medical center in 2008, in collaboration with an international ABA therapy provider,” she said. “We started with eight children and 10 therapists and grew very fast. By 2010, we had children ready for school.”

But schools were not ready for them, so she launched an alternative education center to support transition and inclusion in mainstream schools.

The Maharat Learning Center — the next step — was established immediately after the Dubai Knowledge and Human Development Authority initiated its inclusion strategy in 2016.

Maharat, which means “skills” in Arabic, covers the full spectrum of learning and support. Courses include one-to-one sessions backed up by inclusion support services and shadow teaching.

In a regional first, the courses are conducted in both Arabic and English. The center is now working with 10 schools across Dubai to launch ABA and transition classrooms.

International expansion is next: The first branch has opened in Riyadh, and an online platform to scale up and foster research is on the horizon.

“I see the business growing globally and becoming a household name,” Shata said. “There are too many children around the world struggling with developmental disorders. I want to see them improve and grow to be great people.”

Although the region lags behind more developed countries, acceptance of special needs has grown in recent years. Earlier this year, Abu Dhabi hosted the Special Olympics, and by next year, private schools in Dubai will be required to cater to special needs children.

The global median rate of autism prevalence is estimated at 62 per 10,000, according to the World Health Organization. For the Middle East, the figure may be higher.

Available research puts the prevalence of ASD at 1.4 per 10,000 in Oman, 29 per 10,000 in the UAE, and 4.3 per 10,000 in Bahrain, but the condition is thought to be under-reported.

Shata has become something of an ambassador for autistic education, but perhaps the most pressing challenges were personal.

“There are many hard moments, starting from the inability to communicate with your child or understand their feelings,” she said.

“The journey with autism is never easy, but there are many good moments. Those are moments that your heart dances for joy because your child has achieved what you do not expect. Suddenly, all the hard moments are worth it.”

Shata is certainly on her way to succeeding in her mission: Her daughter is now in grade 7, speaks English and Arabic, plays the piano, and enjoys art, sports and swimming.

• This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.


Bella Hadid heads to New York for Adidas campaign launch

Updated 16 July 2024
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Bella Hadid heads to New York for Adidas campaign launch

DUBAI: US Palestinian Dutch supermodel Bella Hadid is the face of Adidas Originals’ new campaign for its SL “Super Light” 72 sneaker.

The brand is reintroducing the running shoe, which launched in the summer of 1972, in five colorways. Hadid took part in the launch campaign, which sees the model star in a digital and billboard campaign for the brand — with her image taking over a largescale billboard in New York this week.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)

“Lucky to still be able to have these (kinds) of pinch me moments,” Hadid posted on Instagram alongside a carousel of photos of the billboard.

The photographs for the campaign were shot in Paris and see Hadid posing in the shoes while wearing an Adidas top-and-shorts set with the brand’s identifiable three stripes. She holds a bouquet of red-hued flowers in the photos.

Hadid is celebrating more than just her latest campaign — this spring, the model launched her own brand Orebella. The inaugural products were three perfumes.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)

In July, the beauty entrepreneur announced that a percentage of the proceeds from her brand are being donated to the Orebella Alchemy Foundation, a charitable initiative aimed at creating positive change across various communities.

The Orebella Alchemy Foundation partners with organizations that are “deeply personal” to Hadid, such as Girls Club New York, which empowers young women and “youth of color,” and the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.), which aims to change lives by providing equine-assisted services to people with disabilities.

“We will be donating a minimum financial donation of 1 percent of all Orebella net sales to charity, as well as delivering service hours, community outreach and social promotion,” Hadid wrote on social media. “I can’t wait to keep growing and including even more amazing organizations. I have so many different organizations that are important to me and we will continue to roll them out.”


Marvel downplays Israeli background of character in ‘Captain America: Brave New World’

Updated 16 July 2024
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Marvel downplays Israeli background of character in ‘Captain America: Brave New World’

DUBAI: Amid the hype surrounding the release of the first “Captain America: Brave New World” trailer, Marvel Studios is seeking to distance itself from the controversial roots of one of its characters.

A story published on Marvel’s official website contained the following information  about new character Ruth Bat-Seraph, whose inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was previously confirmed in 2022.

“New to the cast is Shira Haas, who joins as Ruth Bat-Seraph. A former Black Widow, Ruth is now a high-ranking US government official who has the trust of President Ross,” said Marvel.

The description confirms some significant changes from the comics, where Ruth is originally a mutant named Sabra, an Israeli superhero and an agent of Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency. The character has long been controversial owing to her connection to the Israel-Palestine conflict — a controversy that has taken on even greater significance recently due to the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

Although the term “Sabra” refers to a Jewish person born in Israel, the name is also considered insensitive considering the Sabra and Shatila massacre of 1982.

Ruth is played by Israeli actress Shira Haas, who was first cast in the role in 2022. She has previously appeared in movies including “Asia” and “The Zookeeper's Wife,” as well as the Netflix series “Bodies.”


First UAE childrenswear label at London’s Harrods marks ‘step forward’ in exporting Emirati creativity

Updated 16 July 2024
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First UAE childrenswear label at London’s Harrods marks ‘step forward’ in exporting Emirati creativity

DUBAI: Emirati brand Shatha Essa Kids has become the first childrenswear label from the UAE to be launched at luxury London department store Harrods, with designer Shatha Essa Al-Mulla telling Arab News the move represents a step forward in exporting Emirati creativity to the world.

Al-Mulla ventured into childrenswear last year, after launching her eponymous womenswear label in 2016. Now, her frothy, fun line of dresses and sets has found a home at the historic store Harrods.

The designer dubbed the achievement “an immense honor and a significant milestone,” adding the move “(showcases) Emirati culture and craftsmanship on a prestigious global platform … (and) also contributes to putting Emirati childrenswear on the international map.”

The line features special occasion looks for toddlers and girls up to the age of 14, with all the outfits designed and produced in Dubai.

“I design those dresses for my girls first then display them to the world. It is like giving everyone access to our private wardrobe at home,” the designer said of the inspiration behind the brand, referring to her two daughters Hessa and Hind.

Summery butter yellows and grey, sophisticated tulle outfits mark the collection, with rose pink embroidered double-breasted dresses and silk bow-adored looks on show at the retail space in London.

The interactive retail space, which was designed by Al-Mulla herself, features a theatre booth and dress up dolls.

“I aimed to create an ambiance reminiscent of a delightful birthday party … allowing kids to fully immerse themselves in a whimsical magical environment and enjoy collaborative play,” Al-Mulla explained.

The permanent space is emblematic of an East-to-West trend, the designer said.

“This milestone is crucial for the UAE’s fashion scene because it represents a step forward to exporting Emirati-made products to the world, fostering greater appreciation and interest in our designs.”

 


Imaan Hammam poses for resort, sportswear labels

Updated 15 July 2024
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Imaan Hammam poses for resort, sportswear labels

DUBAI: From Victoria’s Secret sportswear to luxury resort wear, Moroccan Egyptian Dutch model Imaan Hammam is spending the summer broadening her horizons.

The model, who is usually found on haute couture catwalks and modeling for high-end eveningwear labels, took to social media this week to share snaps from campaigns for Victoria’s Secret and US label Louisa Ballou.

Hammam posed for fashion photographer Nikki Arya in outfits from Louisa Ballou’s Archive High Tide collection. The model was photographed on a beach at dusk wearing a cobalt blue-and-black sheath dress with graphic patterns across the length of the ankle-grazing outfit.

Raised in Charleston, South Carolina, in the US, designer Louisa Ballou founded her brand in 2018. The label seeks to offer “an unconventional perspective on resort wear, creating beautifully crafted and covetable luxury clothing that transcends the beach,” according to its website.

From the beach to the gym, Hammam shared campaign images from a shoot with US label Victoria’s Secret this week. In the images, she shows off nude-toned gym wear, complete with a zip-up sports top and matching pants.

“Keeping comfortable,” the model captioned the images on Instagram.

Earlier this month, Hammam took to social media to share a fashion shoot in which she celebrates Moroccan culture.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Imaan Hammam (@imaanhammam)

“I will always be proud when I get to show off the beauty that is Moroccan culture and collaborate with so many amazing artists and creatives,” Hammam captioned a carousel of snaps on Instagram.

The model collaborated with auteur Marwane Jinane, photographer Hamza Lafrouji and a fellow model and creative who goes by the name Cheb Pablo on the shoot, which sees the pair posing in various locations in Casablanca.

Hammam is known for working with and promoting artists and creatives from the MENA region with her 1.7 million Instagram followers. The runway star — who is a fashion week staple and is currently the brand ambassador of cosmetics giant Estée Lauder — is known for dropping personally curated playlists of regional music for her social media fans and she has also promoted regional artists in the past.

In June, Hammam hit the runway at the Vogue World event in Paris alongside Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadidi, French Algerian icon Farida Khelfa and Venus and Serena Williams.


Liverpool Arab Arts Festival’s return showcases entertaining agenda

Updated 14 July 2024
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Liverpool Arab Arts Festival’s return showcases entertaining agenda

  • Vibrant mix of art, theater, music, literature, workshops

LONDON: The Liverpool Arab Arts Festival, the UK’s longest-running festival celebrating Arab arts and culture, runs until July 21 and showcases a vibrant mix of art, theater, music, literature, and workshops.

Founded in 1998, the festival has become a cornerstone of Liverpool’s cultural calendar.

This year’s program features a diverse lineup of artists from Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia, offering a dynamic interplay between traditional and contemporary Arab art forms.

Laura Brown, creative producer of the festival, told Arab News: “Artists are dealing with contemporary ideas and art forms, but often the conversations and themes they are tapping into are something Arab communities have been talking about for generations, like migration, identity and conflict.”

One of the highlights will be the festival’s tribute to Palestine. A special screening of “At Home in Gaza and London” will be held on Monday, with ticket proceeds benefiting collaborators in Gaza.

“Oranges and Stones,” a wordless play told through physical action and music, on Thursday will depict 75 years of occupation and settlement in Palestine. Marina Barham, general director of Al-Harah Theater in Bethlehem, will also speak about the therapeutic role of theater in addressing community trauma.

Port city Liverpool has fostered diverse and multicultural communities, with Arabic reportedly being the city’s second most-spoken language.

Brown said: “What’s really important to us is that we work with the community to ensure everyone feels represented. We talk to the community about artists they like and who they want to see, to bring them over. It was a conversation with members of the Somali community that introduced us to Aar Maanta.”

As an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organization, the festival is part of the 2023-26 investment program.

Brown added: “Being an NPO is something the whole team is incredibly proud of and it is something we take very seriously.

“The arts landscape is very challenging and the ability to be able to know your festival is secured for several years in advance allows you to build relationships with venues and creatives to develop programs and projects further.”