Hamda Al Hosani with her mother Zafrana (right). Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Mentors at the Zayed Higher Organisation (ZHO) are brimming with pride as Emirati athletes continue bringing in the medals for the UAE at the ongoing Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi.

“Of the 290 athletes representing the UAE at the Special Olympics this year, 90 are enrolled with us. They’ve been with us since they were literally babies. We say with pride that Hamda Al Hosani and Saleh Al Merri are ‘ours’,” said Maitha Al Mansouri, director of communication and marketing at the ZHO.

Al Hosani, 30, won a gold medal in the 200 metres earlier this week, and also secured a silver for the 100 metre, while Saleh Al Merri, 25, won gold in singles bowling. Their medals are some of the 160 won by UAE athletes at the World Games so far.

“This competition and its wins are already such a boost for our students. But it is not just the athletes because there are wins all around,” Al Mansouri added.

As an example, she pointed to a stack of backpacks in the ZHO stand at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. A total of 12,500 backpacks were handmade by ZHO students to give away to Special Olympics visitors.

“Some of our students are not athletic, but excel in other skills. They’ve spent many hours handmaking these, and as they give them out to visitors, it boosts their self-confidence and sense of purpose. So once the Games are over, we will try to help them secure employment with these skills,” added Al Mansouri.

She was speaking on the seventh day of the World Games, which will conclude in the capital on Wednesday.

The ZHO, an Abu Dhabi-based public institution, is the biggest educational centre for Emirati people with determination. Its 18 branches in the emirate currently enrol 1,600 individuals.

“Our athletes are excelling at the Games and we aim to keep this legacy alive for future generations,” said Abdullah Al Humaidan, ZHO secretary general.

He explained that just hosting the Games has created an ecosystem in Abu Dhabi that is geared towards assisting and including people with determination.

“Going forward, our collaboration with private sector employers will grow. We are seeking out employment opportunities for our students, and organising training workshops for them,” said Al Humaidan.

The ZHO is also working to provide more specialised educational opportunities for younger Emirati students.

“Some of our younger enrollees, including many with autism spectrum disorders, are not yet able to attend mainstream schools. But they already possess the basic skill sets we train them in at the ZHO. To help these students join mainstream institutions, we are setting up bridging schools, like [the recently opened] Al Karamah School, in collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Department for Education and Knowledge,” said Al Humaidan.