Muscat – The launch of a calendar with the twin objectives of raising awareness on persons with special needs and the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture 2022 went by mostly unnoticed due to delays triggered by COVID-19.
The UN General Assembly has declared 2022 International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture to showcase the potential and diversity of small-scale artisanal fisheries and aquaculture, and points to the benefits which can be gained from facilitating partnerships and cooperation with fishermen, fish farmers and fisheries workers. This is in addition to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Tying the two themes together, psychologist and special educator Dr Gayatri Narasimhan published the calendar featuring artworks depicting fish and other marine life created by individuals from Oman with special needs.
Gayatri conducts vocational training and is “amazed” by the talent of children and adults with special needs in Oman. “They have abundant talent. All we need to do is tap these in the right manner and keep providing opportunities. In fact, when I called for drawings for this calendar, I was flooded with responses.”
Among those whose artworks appear in the calendar is 19-year-old Abdullah al Ruqaishi. He has Down’s syndrome. He learnt how to make candles, chocolates, greeting cards, soaps, block printing and screen printing in a programme conducted by Gayatri. The skills he picked up and the activities he enjoyed were gainfully engaged leading to a gift shop selling his handmade creations which opened in 2019. It was a milestone in Oman in efforts to integrate individuals with special needs into society.
During the pandemic, Gayatri’s Prakramika Vocational Institute devised a special needs friendly curriculum for its students in India that could be administered online and customised to suit needs of individual students. Of three-four month duration, the courses offered for free included Front Office Management, Teacher Assistant, MS Office, Graphic Designing and Workplace Communication. “Even before completion, 14 students were offered internship opportunities by a Singapore-based company and 20 students were offered permanent jobs,” Gayatri informed.
Additionally, three students with autism enrolled for a Personality Development and Public Speaking course conducted by Muscat-based Vinodhini Krishnamurthy. The vocational training modules were conducted by Gayatri and her two daughters – Akshaya, a data scientist, and Akhila, who conceptualised and designed the calendar.
Following the success of the programme in India, Gayatri is now eager to offer the same courses to students in Oman for which she is currently seeking out government approvals.
The calendar also features artworks of 20-year-old Ruiya. She has Down’s syndrome and enjoys art and crafts, gyming and is active on social media, followed by over 600 on Instagram (life_of_ruiya).
Her mother Zuwaina al Barwani described the calendar as a step in the right direction in raising awareness and inclusion. “Children with special needs, too, have talents like all other people. Given the opportunity, they can integrate into society and be productive members of the community.”
Gayatri is confident that “if we modify the way we teach, any child will learn” and is committed to make an inclusive world.