TORONTO – Living with Down syndrome, Aaliya Jaffer has never felt powerless, making her time busy by volunteering at As-Sadiq Islamic School with the grade 3 teacher and her students, Muslim Link reported on Monday, December 31.
“I want to give back to the community,” the 22-year old recent high-school graduate said.
Aaliya regularly attends the Jaffari Community Centre (JCC), a mosque and community center, which houses the As-Sadiq Islamic School where she volunteers.
For years, the Islamic center has played an integral role in her life, serving as a social and spiritual hub for her and her family.
Yet, engaging with masses while living with a physical or intellectual disability can be extremely daunting.
Ruksana Hemani, whose daughter, Suraiya, lives with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), shared Aaliya’s challenges.
“Whenever I decide to attend any event, I have to plan ahead to make sure that I anticipate all kinds of situations that can happen,” says Ruksana.
“I sit close to the exits, try to be distant from little kids, and try to see if there is anything in the environment that can trigger Suraiya. She has sensory issues so sometimes she can tolerate certain things and sometimes she cannot, and I don’t know until we arrive. I am always anxious and on edge, and can’t really enjoy the outing whenever she is with me because I don’t want her to disturb other people that are there.”
Promoting inclusion and accommodating the needs of families with special needs, the Islamic center formed the Special Needs Support Network (SNSN) committee of volunteers.
“It’s amazing and excellent,” says Maysam, speaking of the work that the SNSN is doing to meet the needs of his daughter Aaliya.
“It’s so great to see our community helping and advocating for these kids, youth, and adults.”
The SNSN also hosts regular events that families with special needs enjoy together including bowling, pottery painting, or even a day of shopping and lunch.
“Ever since we have had help from the volunteers [of the SNSN], I don’t feel so lonely and can relax a little,” Ruksana shares.
“It really helps when the volunteers are so understanding and patient with Suraiya. We all want to have as many people as we can get to know and help support our child throughout their life. The Special Needs Support Network is helping us do that.”