Saudi Arabia: Saut School – A Place of Hope and Future for Children with Down Syndrome

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Down Syndrome and other illnesses and disabilities are often “swept under the carpet” in Saudi Arabia and not widely discussed.  Yet there are many children born each year with Down syndrome in Saudi Arabia and over 80 per cent of these children receive no schooling.  Saut School is proactively making a difference in the lives of Down syndrome children and their families.  It is with pleasure and honor for American Bedu to interview Fatima Malak about Saut School.

 


First of all Fatima, thank you for coming forward and allowing me to interview you.  I’d like to begin with some facts.  How many children in Saudi Arabia are known to have Down’s syndrome?  How many children each year are born with Down syndrome in the Kingdom?

There are no accurate statistics regarding the number of kids with D.S. in Saudi, but from Mckinsey and company study it showed that there are 15,000 youth in KSA. As for the ratio of infants with D.S. again, unfortunately ministry of Health doesn’t have this ratio.

Why is there such a social stigma in regards to Down syndrome in Saudi Arabia?  Why is there a reticence among many to talk about Down syndrome or even for a family to acknowledge that a child has Down syndrome?

The social stigma is universal. Saudi Arabia is not unique in their attitudes; they are delayed in getting the awareness and information to the public and providing services such as early intervention, due, perhaps to the nature of our society.  Attitudes are something that evolve and take time to change.  As people become educated about DS and see more in public and working in the community, more will ‘come out of the closet.’  It takes a few brave parents to come forward a talk about it—and demonstrate their human potential.

What inspired the establishment of Saut school?  When and where was it established?  What is your position and role at Saut school? How easy was it to establish a school exclusively for children with Down syndrome?

In order to satisfy the unmet demand in KSA, The Al-Nahda Philathropic Soicety for Women felt it was time for previously known ” Al-Nahda schools for D.S.” to become independent and establish a national society for Down Syndrome. Saut: The Voice Of Down Syndrome Society was established Jan/2010 in Riyadh and its mission is to make the best use of resources and opportunities to meet the needs of people with Down Syndrome and their families in KSA.

I am the CEO of the Society and it was very easy to establish Saut Schools as it was already existing as “Al-Nahda Schools for Down Syndrome ” since 87.

How many children were first enrolled in Saut school?  What is your enrollment today?  What can you share about the students who have already graduated from Saut school?  How are they doing today?  What are their capabilities and achievements as compared to a Down syndrome child who did not have the benefit of attending a school such as Saut school?

When the Schools started under the umbrella of Al-Nahda society there were 4 kids in 87 and the number grew to have 150 students today. Depending on the ability of each student: some of our graduates are working at the moment in supermarkets, McDonald, and  private companies, and others who are not capable of being enrolled in the vocational training program they graduate by the age of 18.

I can’t compare students who are enrolled in our program to other students enrolled in different programs as I have never visited the other places and I don’t know what type of programs they offer.

How many students can Saut school accommodate?  What are the ages of students?  What kind of teaching and resources are available to the students?

At the moment we can accommodate 150 students from birth till 21 yrs old. And we are hoping to expand by year 2012 and have Center of Excellence in Riyadh with a total number of 300 students and then expand in other major cities in the Kingdom.

Our schools offer world class educational and vocational services. We have developed a unique model that has won international recognition. And, thanks to constant support from international consultants and links with research centers in America, Saut is always at the cutting edge of medical and educational knowledge.

What is the composition of the students?  Ages?  Nationalities?

We cater to both boys and girls from birth to 21 yrs old. Most of our kids are Saudi.

Is Saut school a day school only?  Are classes year round or correspond with the Saudi school schedule?

Saut Schools is a day school and it corresponds with Saudi school schedule.

How many teachers are there at Saut school?  What are the profiles and nationalities of the teachers?  How does Saut school identify and recruit its staff?  What qualifications must the staff have?

We have 20 teachers and 6 aids and they are all Saudis. Teachers should have a BA in Special Ed and they get continued training in educational methods relating to D.S., And more than 30 teachers have been trained to be world-class Down syndrome experts.

What are some of the challenges faced in running a school oriented for Down syndrome students?  How have you overcome these challenges?  What challenges have you faced specific to Down syndrome in Saudi Arabia?

The most challenge we faced and still facing is getting enough donations/revenues to keep the Schools running up to the standards we want.

Does Saut school have an international affiliation and/or collaboration?  If so, how and what are the benefits to the students?

We have consultants from the US in Education, Early Intervention, and Speech Language Pathology. They have been in this field for more than 25 yrs. And they have published books on D.S.

I realize that a family member with Down syndrome can have an impact on the entire family.  What resources does Saut school provide for families?

All type of resources from Educational, to medical, to Social as well as counseling.

What are some of the most important facts people need to know about Down syndrome?

That People with Down Syndrome can reach their fullest potentials if they were given proper education.

What are your goals for Saut school?

Our goal will always be to offer comprehensive, state of the art and practical program that is uniquely effective because its grounded in international expertise and customized for the context of KSA.

Can individuals volunteer at Saut school?  If so, how and in what capacity?

Yes , individuals can volunteer and they can contact the school. Volunteer’s are welcomed! 😉

How can a child get enrolled in Saut school?  How can one contact Saut school?  Do you have a web site?

By calling the school and asking for the social worker, as for the site it’s still under construction and hopefully before the end of the year it will be launched.

What specific message would you like to share with readers of American Bedu about Down syndrome in Saudi Arabia and Saut school?

We would like everyone in the community to help Saut Society achieve its goals by supporting us in any way possible…

In closing, are there any additional comments you’d like to make?

No thanks J

Thank you very much Fatima for coming forward.  I wish you and Saut school continued growth and success.

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9 Responses

  1. I am so happy to hear of this school!

    When I lived in Riyadh, my daughter was enrolled at Al Nahda school (early 1990s), and we loved its bright atmosphere, enlightened methods, and loving attitudes.

    The teachers were all wonderful, and worked so hard with the kids. I volunteered there, and learned a lot myself. That school was instrumental in helping me and my daughter for years after we moved back to the USA.

    May Allah support you and provide you will all the resources necessary to help children with DS and their families!

  2. It is so great to see such facilities growing in Saudi. I wish all the best to you and your endeavors. Some of the most cherished moments I have had, was when I volunteered with the kids with special needs in my highschool (in Canada). It was so beautiful to see them grow and smile each day! Why doesn’t the Saudi public school system allow children with special needs to enroll in the schools?

  3. Back in Russia i was working in school as music teacher, we had 3 klasses for children with special needs(mild social retardation and mild physical disability). Those were hard days, but those children are so innocent and kind compare to so called”normal” kids. I loved interacting with them and see their eyes sparkle and their faces smiling. They loved to sing so very much! Unfortunately, most teachers they had were so very mean to the kids… I hope here, in Saudi Arabia they can be kind and patient with these special children.

  4. I would like to be a social worker for such institutes if its not a profit making organization. I could be available after working hours of course. I dont know how and where to be contacted… Waiting for the response.

  5. I like what Fatima said about “demonstrating their human potential.” So often people only see deficits where there are in reality many, many strengths. People with Down Syndrome can and do make valuable contributions to our world.

    So wonderful that this school is aiding in education and awareness.

  6. Very good to see! Good luck!

  7. Carol and Fatima,

    Thank you so much for this post. I can say that as a grandparent personally affected by childhood disabilities. It is things like this that make me wonder about god and the universe. Why do children have to suffer? Why why why I ask myself.

    Of all the evils on this planet, things such as down and autism are among the worst. It makes a person feel so helpless. If I could drop dead and that would make my grandson whole, it would be fine with me. I would do it in the blink of an eye.

  8. Very Pleasant 🙂

    Dear Carol,

    Thank you very much for this beautiful reminder.

    I want to know if there is a chance to get a physical address of this school, and someone to contact regarding volunteering and donation.

    THANk YOu

  9. For those who have expressed an interesting in volunteering or contributing email me directly at admin@americanbedu.com and I will forward your info onwards.

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