Determined people
Determined people (Clockwise from top left): Sebastian Pablo Navarro, Chandan Tekwani, Ronnie Mahesh Sherpa and Vikram Anil are among the special people who have overcome their disabilities to chase their dreams. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Special needs people are indeed people of determination. They fight crippling disabilities to live normal lives. Chandan Tekwani, 47, is one. Mildly autistic, the Indian expat has been battling schizophrenia, a severe mental illness, for 17 years, but that hasn’t stopped him from holding a steady job and becoming largely independent.

Abdulaziz Ahmed Al Faleh, 21, is another determined person. He was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a complex neurodevelopmental condition, but the Saudi expat continues to work as a community relations officer.

Sebastian Pablo Navarro, 21, also has ASD. The Argentinian expat, who works part-time as an HR assistant, is busy improving his computer, administration and hospitality skills.

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Ronnie Mahesh Sherpa, 31, born deaf and mute, is also mildly autistic. The disabilities haven’t reined in the Indian expat, a sales executive whose services have come for praise from his company.

Vikram Anil, 31, can’t speak due to severe apraxia, a neurological disorder that severely limits movements. But that hasn’t restrained his creativity; he’s written more than 50 poems.

These Dubai residents are just a handful of cases that illustrate how people of determination overcome their medical conditions to pursue active and independent lives. Some institutions in the UAE equip people of determination with skills to find jobs and develop satisfying careers.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Sanad Village is one such institution. It helps children with ASD integrate into mainstream society and become independent. Sharareh Zainalian, Elementary Vocational Programme Director at Sanad Village, said: “We have a holistic, comprehensive, and integrated approach for those affected by ASD. We work towards providing viable pathways for them to be part of society so they can be independent and support their families. Our facility includes amenities to build life skills within a safe space for people of determination.”

Real-life scenarios are simulated, and there are creative spaces and areas for exercise and play, Zainalian said, adding that Al Faleh and Navarro have made full use of Sanad Village’s programmes. “Their journey underscores the transformative potential of inclusive education, illustrating the boundless opportunities it provides for individuals with determination to thrive,” she said.

How Sanad Village helped Al Faleh

Al Faleh, who suffers from ASD, has been going to Sanad Village for a year to learn new skills, although he’s been working for SEE Holding community management as a community relations officer. “Abdulaziz has expanded his knowledge of computers and technology and developed planning and organising skills,” Zainalian said.

“His communication and social skills have improved, and he is now capable of living independently. He also aims to transition from part-time to full-time employment,” she added.

Sebastian Pablo Navarro
Argentinian expat Sebastian Pablo Navarro has ASD. He works part-time as an HR assistant and is busy upskilling. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Navarro, who refuses to be reined in by ASD, has been training for a year in The Sustainable City at the Sanad Village. A part-time HR assistant at the SEE Holding community management — a company based in The Sustainable City — the Argentinian intends to gain full-time employment, besides aiming to live independently and expanding social connections.

“Sebastian [Navarro] has expanded his knowledge of computers and technology, and developed planning and organising skills, which helped him secure a job as an HR assistant,” Zainalian explained, adding that his communication and social skills have improved significantly.

Why Tekwani’s family is celebrating

Tekwani is excited at the prospect of going on a holiday. His second solo holiday is indeed a matter of celebration for Tekwani and his family, as the Indian expat suffers from schizophrenia.

Chandan Tekwani
Chandan Tekwani has been battling schizophrenia, but that hasn’t stopped the Indian expat from holding a steady job and becoming independent. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

After coming to the UAE as a three-year-old, Tekwani, the youngest of three siblings, returned to India at 14, when his father fell ill. Three years later, his father died, and Tekwani’s schizophrenia traits flared up. Violent outbursts, self-sabotage, and hallucinations were among the distressing signs that pushed his family to check him into a rehabilitation centre in India.

The confinement didn’t help. “We did not understand that until he tried to take his life. This prompted us to bring him to the UAE,” Chetwani, Tekwani’s brother-in-law, said, adding that Tekwani’s condition has improved since then.

“From 19 medicines a day, it has now dropped to two. A major factor in the transformation has been a job. He has been working for the last 10 years, and this has changed his life,” Chetwani said.

schizophrenia box

Tekwani’s mental health ceased to be a problem, and the 47-year-old credits that to his work at Centrepoint Sky Gardens. “I have been working in the Landmark Group for 10 years. It has allowed me to grow [he’s a senior sales executive now). My colleagues are very supportive. Before, I did not understand the value of money. Today I do, thanks to my job,” he said, adding that he’s saved a healthy amount and is funding his holiday in the United States.

Raza Beig, CEO and Founding Director of Splash and Director of Centrepoint, Landmark Group, said: “We offer jobs and opportunities for people of determination so they find their confidence and financial independence. As employers, we believe equal opportunities should be given to all deserving candidates who can add value to our workforce.”

Ronnie Sherpa
Ronnie Mahesh Sherpa, born deaf and mute, is also mildly autistic. The Indian expat works a sales executive. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Sherpa too benefited from that opportunity, and he’s been a sales executive at Splash in Ibn Battuta Mall for five years. Born deaf and mute, the Indian expat who is also mildly autistic was recently awarded a certificate of appreciation.

His mother, Budhmaya Lama, aka Diana Lama, said, “He is sending his salary to help his father and uncle in India. It is heartening to see how well his colleagues treat him. Ronnie has learned so much at work. He loves his job and his independence. I cannot imagine this for Ronnie anywhere else in the world.”

Vikram is different. He doesn’t work. An aspiring poet, the 31-year-old can’t speak due to severe apraxia, which also limits his ability to function independently. But he is cognitively aware and has a sharp mind.

Vikram Anil
Vikram Anil can’t speak due to severe apraxia, but he’s written more than 50 poems. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

For decades, his family looked for treatments that would enable him to communicate. “In 2019, we had a breakthrough when Vikram started using a spelling board and later an iPad. That enabled him to spell out words. He soon started putting together full sentences to communicate and taking part in conversations, though motor tasks continued to be extremely challenging,” Jayashree Anil, Vikram’s mother, said.

“He had absorbed unbelievable amounts of knowledge on various subjects. He can now articulate his feelings in English. That brought out the poet in him; he wrote over 50 poems in the last couple of years. These are written on his iPad within 60 to 90 minutes,” Jayashree added.

Apraxia Box - updated

Vikram went on to complete a course in Modern Poetry conducted by the University of Pennsylvania in the US. “Ironically, the first certificate he received is from an Ivy League institution,” his mother said, gushing with pride.

Disability was no handicap for the success of these five people. All it took was will power, which is why they are people of determination.