Monday, April 19, 2010

Another tremendous charity in Oman! The Creative Learning Centre: a center for handicapped children and children with learning disabilities.

Photo: A beautiful Omani girl with Down's Syndrome, from CLC website.

NGOs and formal charities are pretty new to Oman. Following up from our feature highlighting Muscat Confidential's designated charity of Dar Al Atta last week, here's an interview with another dedicated woman doing great things: Kawthar Al Balushi and her Creative Learning Centre.

Her story reminds me of how lucky I am to have a healthy family, and how selfish I am with my time and talents compared to angels like Kawthar and Lubna.

One of the biggest growing problems in Oman is combination of the traditional attitude to handicapped children, a culture of inter-marrying between close family members (first cousins) and modern medical care. This has resulted in a flood of disabled children, in a country and society that is ill-equipped to cater for their needs. It's also a subject that is seldom talked about. The modern understanding science has brought to us about how many of these disabilities are caused is not widely known, and giving birth to a disabled child is often seen in Oman as a punishment from God or some other bullshit. Increased chance of Down's Syndrome, for example, is often associated with mothers who give birth in middle age (>40 yrs old).

I would note the Oman Government at present offers precious little support, or education, in regard to handicapped children. This should change. The way His Majesty requested that handicapped children take pride of place at a recent event, riding horses as a part of a parade before him, should be taken as an emphasis that these children deserve respect and fair treatment.

So, here's an interview with Kawthar Al-Balushi, Co-founder of the Creative Learning Center, an educational and care center for handicapped children and children with learning difficulties. I encourage readers to take up her request for assistance. She needs the help.

Any profits are donated to the orphanage for Omani children in Al Khuwair (although I'm not sure there are any profits right now. I suspect Kawthar and her family are still supporting the CLC with hefty sums of their own money, as well as huge commitments of time and dedication).

Undercover Dragon: Thank you for speaking with us here at Muscat Confidential Kawthar. What is the CLC and how did it come to begin and survive?

Kawthar Al Balushi: Creative Learning Center is a center for handicapped children and children with learning disabilities. Our mission is to educate the special needs child and those children with learning disabilities. We believe that all children are gifts from God and no child should be denied an education because of a disability. We also believe that all children are creative in their own way. Hence the name “Creative Learning Center”.

Anyone that wants more information about the center may contact 95307344

It began for the simple reason that I could not find good education for my own son who has mirror image dyslexia. We had put him in 3 or 4 different schools and within a month the school would call and tell us that they could not facilitate his needs. He was then home schooled until we opened the center.

When we first opened, we opened without anything. I had gotten money from friends and realities, around 11,000 RO. We had assumed this was enough to start and surely the community would community would come forward to support these children, especially the poor families. However, we found this was not the case at all. We found that many companies where not willing to support the center because it was private even though we had a social program for poor families.

The first year anyone whose income fell below 500 RO was going for free they had to only pay for the bus fees. 70% of our kids were on this social program so that put us in a deep dark hole.

We had to mortgage our house in order to survive. My husband mortgaged out house for 60,000 RO and this is how we made it through the first year.

How many children does it help right now? What is life like for a typical student vs how it would be if they were not at your school?

For many of the children going to the center, they were shut ins before they joined. Just wasting their day away with the TV.

Now, because there is something for them they are doing a lot of different activities.

For autistic children we first focus on the social aspect. We have to teach them how to sit, how to eat, how to go to the toilet. After that is accomplished we try to get them involved in different educational activities.

Photo: In class at the Creative Learning Centre, CLC.

The children have arts and crafts, computer, English and Arabic, music as well as the therapies they may need- such as phyical, occupational, and speech.

We have found that children with down syndrome are very capable of learning. We have a group of young learners with down syndrome who are now learning to read and write…. All they needed was the opportunity to learn.

UD: The tendency of Omani's to marry close genetic relatives, a high proportion of several recessive genetic illnesses, and modern medical care, have resulted in a surge of children affected by genetic abnormalities. How is this problem being currently addressed, and what is your advice to the Government on how to improve the situation (at a reasonable cost)?

KB: You are correct in this. I think there needs to be more education in the schools on what the results can be for those that intermarry. Many of the families here in Oman are still intermarrying their sons and daughters. We need to educate the students in high school about intermarrying and how this can result in genetic abnormalities in children.

UD: What is your greatest challenge in running the CLC?

Our biggest challenge is getting sponsorship for the children from under privileged families. The first year these families were going for free and that put us in a lot of financial difficulties. Now, students whose family’s combined income falls under 600 RO per month, pay a percentage of their income 5-15% depending on their social situation. In order for our social program to continue we have to have the support of the community.

UD: What is your biggest mistake with CLC?

KB: Trusting the wrong people when we first opened. There are a lot of sharks that want to thrive on the misfortune of others… and we meet a lot of those sharks when we first opened our doors.

UD: What has been your biggest joy?

KB: Seeing the smiling faces of the children coming through the door and the tears of a parent when they see their child read for the first time, speak for the first time or take a step for the first time… especially when the doctors told them they would never be able to do these skills.

UD: How can readers of Muscat Confidential assist in your efforts?

KB: The biggest way would be supporting the fees of an under privileged child. Another way would be to volunteer.. We are always looking for volunteers. A volunteer needs experience working with children. Preferably an educational degree of some kind. The last way would be with supplies… Such as art supplies, physical therapy equipment, book, toys, food etc.

UD: What advice would you give to an Omani couple who have just given birth to a disabled child?

KB: I would first say have patience… This child is your child and don’t give it away to the orphanage. I would also say educate yourself about your child’s condition. Education is power. And lastly see what medical facilities and educational facilities are available in Oman for your child’s condition. Above all do not take your frustration out on your child. All children are gifts from God no matter what their condition may be.

UD: Do you have anything else to say about the CLC and your mission to my readers?

KB: Yes, First I would like to talk about our programs.

The first program I want to talk about is our special education program.
We are taking children with autism, down syndrome, mentally challenged students as well as other conditions. As of right now we are teaching these children using the Montessori method of education. We have had good results with this method within the last 2 years. The children have improved behavior wise, socially and educationally.

Photo: Cooking with young children at CLC.

However, we are planning to move over to the ABA (applied behavior analysis) for autistic children the next year. It focus on the idea that by influencing a response associated with a behavior may cause that behavior to be shaped and controlled. ABA is a mixture of psychological and educational techniques that are utilized based upon the needs of each individual child.

We are planning to continue with the Montessori method of education for children with down syndrome, mentally challenged children and other conditions, because we have found that we have had good results using these methods.

Within this special education side, we have two sections of young adults whose ages fall between 19-27. We have one section of down syndrome learners and one section of students that are mentally challenged. We are hoping to expand on this section next year and hopefully move them into a building of their own. We feel that it is important for these young adults to get out of their home environment to have some activities to do. We focus on literacy skills (Arabic and English), computer skills, arts and music. They all enjoy the time with us.

We also have a section for children with learning disabilities. Most of these children have not been able to function in the mainstream school. A lot of them have been asked to leave the school. Most of the children are suffering from dyslexia. The conditions run from moderate to very severe. We have some students with ADD and ADHD. We also have a two children with autism in the learning disabilities section, we felt that they were ready to be changed from the special education side. They have come a far way in the last few years.

Photo: CLC students celebrate National Day!

We also have a High School section. For both morning and evening. This program is for students that have not been able to graduate from high school because of a disability. We have mostly dyslexic students in our high school programs. We also have 3 students that are mentally challenged in the morning program. They are doing well. The high school program comes from an accredited school with in the United States. So all the students completing the high school program will receive a US high school diploma. This program is only for students that have not been able to attend high school in Oman. We do not take transfers from other schools just because they want an American Certificate. They must have a disability to attend this program.

We also have an Evening Program. This focuses on children that have learning problems that are attending regular schools. Right now we only have support in English; however, we are hoping to expand that to Arabic as well. We have not been successful in getting Arabic speaking volunteers for this program.

There are therapies available for students at the center: speech, occupational, and physical.

We also see children that are not registered in the center, by appointment only. There is also educational evaluations available on Sat, Mon and Wed from 8-12 by appointment only. And in the evenings from 4-6 by appointment only.

We are planning a fun camp this year for both handicapped children and children with learning difficulties. It will be an activity based camp, completely in English. We will have sports activities, field trips, art activities, computer, and English language activities. It will start from June 1st till the end of August. There will be 3 sessions.

We will have the younger groups going in the morning from 9-1 (ages 5-12) and the older kids from 13 yrs and above going in the evenings.

Our plans for the future includes expanding our adult programs, so adults with special needs have a place to go and learn. We are hoping this will happen next year.

UD: One final question: When do you get a chance to sleep?!?

KB: Hardly at all!

UD: Thank you for the interview Kawthar.

Wow. What a story.

So, put away those tissues and get donating! Anyone that wants more information about the center may contact 95307344


  1. Kawther is a fraud, i know her, she is just conning people to donate, before donating just try and find out what’s her salary and the salaries of her two daughters working for the centre. You will be shocked. She has been giving the same bullshit story for years, now she has come up with this new scheme of under privileged children. Why do you think she is having difficulties getting donations? cause many people know what she is after. Dragon, i know you want to help but investigate before you ask people to donate. cheers

  2. Kudos to you for this post and getting the word out there about the wonderful people who donate their time, money and lives to take care of others!

    I remember that there was a thread on Oman Forum a while back about sponsoring a child's fees...will revisit that and see what the go is.

    Cheers Dragon.

  3. Brilliant brilliant interview, thank you UD.

    Please let us pray that via your readership the message that closed marriages are discouraged/ banned in many parts of the world is for just this reason - they bring with them the painful and uneccessary prospect of severely sick and disabled children.

    May your interview reach the hearts and minds of the intelligent and influential members of the populus that are your readers and that they heed the message and push it out to others. Please let this needless pain cease - education is the only way for the healing to begin both for the challenged children who are here on this earth now and for those who will be unfortunate enough to follow.

    Thank you again for giving this truly inspirational woman a stage - and in case we should need it, for reminding those of us lucky enough to have 'perfect' families that we are indeed truly blessed but that there are those that are not and that we should do all we can to help them because their situation is not of their own making but in many/most cases through the ignorance of their parents and their parents before them. Education, education, education, it has to be the way forward.

  4. Amazing Article!
    I heard about CLC from Face Book but didnt know this much about it.

    Thank you for Sharing :)

  5. Excellent story and good work UD.
    Pre-marital counselling and check up needs to be encouraged so as to avoid the difficulties. Right attitudes for physically/mentally challenged is lacking by many miles in Oman.

  6. Right attitudes for physically/mentally challenged individuals is lacking by many miles in Oman. Pre-marital check up and counselling needs to be promoted in Oman. If society opens up than mairrage with cousins generally shall go down as well and ofcourse the problems due to that.

  7. Dragons have a heart- a BIG HEART.

  8. First anon,
    Sorry, but this woman is not a "fraud". Yes, the CLC is a business, but not a profit making one (well, any profits go to the orphanage). As with any business, Kawthar and her staff deserve to be paid, and paid well. These children need and deserve to have really good experienced dedicated teachers. That costs money. Plus, Kawthar also had to take considerable business risks for there to be any facility at all right now, and her salary does not comprensate her for those risks.

    It seems to me people who do difficult jobs really well should get paid a lot, thank goodness. You have the wrong end of the stick. Plus, it sounds like you've got a bit of baggage there, IMHO.

    To the rest,

    And yes they do, Abdullah...

  9. well said Dragon!

    A Fan

  10. I have been to the new center myself and talked with UmIbrahim who is running the center for Kawthar.

    The center in Maweleh is very well run and well organized. The person that made the comment at the top seems to be a disgruntled employee by the sounds of their words.

    I think if anyone has any questions, they should go to the center themselves and see how well its run. It is behind City Center in Maweleh.

    I know i found it very well run and the parents that I saw there were very happy. I had gone there to see about sponsoring a child.

  11. Kawthar has given me an indepth response to the anon1 hater. Anon1 is full of shit.

    Even though I think she should, right now Kawthar draws zero salary, her daughters 50 rial/mnth.

    And she does have corporate sponsorship, Bank Sohar, and it was given only after a financial audit.

    So there.

    Question for readers: Do you think its a good idea that I let idiots/haters post comments?

  12. good job kawther ,,, dont let silly people let you down ofcourse you need to be paid and dont forget this wonderful job will increase your hasanat too.

    keep on

  13. As I told you dragon.... there are a lot of sharks.... :-)

  14. Creative Learning Center♥ is home for the kids who have been neglected by people and sometimes by their own family members...
    I am class teacher of Grade 4 and I am proud to be a part of this wonderful organization and I pray that this organization grows successfully and has a bright future for those helpless kids....(Amen)

    And I also wish Madam Kawther a good luck for the years to come...

  15. Kawthar deserves respect for opening up a School like this

    Ryan McReynolds
    Candidate for Birch Run Township Supervisor
    Individual with high functioning autism

  16. "Do you think its a good idea I let idiots/haters post comments?"---Yes, I think you should let them (the idiots/haters) have their say. We are always free to rebut, refute what they say. After the above discourse, I am now sure the organization is well run and on the 'up and up.'

  17. yO dood! Yeah I'm talking to you anonymous - Don't throw accusations you believe in aimlessly , because you don't believe in them yourself otherwise you would have posted without being anonymous so cut the crap of what your saying because ultimately whether they are truths/lies/half truths or otherwise you can't stand behind what your saying.

    So personally i think your lame, but its nice that the internet offers this luxury of being anonymous, it least sometimes ;)

  18. To Anon hater

    Email me some evidence... else, stop being an idiot

  19. Unfortunately I don't have evidence and I am anonymous too, but I agree with Anon1. I volunteered at the centre for almost a week and was shocked by what I saw. It was in Al Khuwair at the time. The staff were disgruntled because they had not been paid their salaries for 3-4 months, and had decided not to teach the children anything. So they were basically just 'babysitting' and disciplining the children who were by and large left to themselves unsupervised. This was because several teachers had resigned after not being paid their salaries. Apparently the rent of the villa had not been paid either. Maybe this is why Kawthar had to shift to Mawaleh.
    I cannot say for sure whether she is a fraud, but seeing the centre being run in this manner and putting up a very altruistic front for the media and to get donations did raise doubts in my mind.

  20. Anonymous too- very well written letter. But you did not make a connection between the center not having any money to pay their bills and being poorly run, and the management keeping the money for themselves. Did you mean to say that- or do you stick by your statement "I cannot say for sure...?

  21. I am a teacher at the centre for almost 2.5 years now. I have always received my salary on time. Exactly the 5th of the month. Except for the first year i worked there. I came on in Feb. of the first year. When Ms. Kawthar hired me, she told me at that time that a lot of staff had quit because of lack of funds. I know for a fact that first year there were very few families paying at all. They were trying to organize it as a charity, but it wasn't going well BECAUSE they were not getting the donations they were hoping too.

    I know that there were problems at the centre the first year, but i think with any business, I think there are problems the first year and trying to find the correct path to follow. This was the first time a special needs centre had been opened in Oman..... it was a new experience for everyone.

    The centre has completely changed from that first year, and everything has been going well. The children have improved a lot because Ms. Kawthar and Ms. Lara searched for good teachers and experienced teachers and have managed to find them.

    All the parents are happy and like one lady said, if u want to know the truth about the centre come and see it for yourself.

    I am happy to be working there, and i have seen it grow and expand. And i have seen the results of the work that the teachers have put in... I think Mrs. Kawthar will agree that the first year was horrible for everyone, especially because of the principal that was running at that time. Now that we have an experienced principal things are much different and much more organised.

  22. What the teachers told me still stands out in my memory. I stick by 'I cannot say for sure' for one reason. I was there for a very short time, and it was not enough to arrive at a logical conclusion one way or the other. But I have personally had doubts about the credibility of the organisation and the people running it ever since.

  23. I am a parent and my child has been going to the centre since the first year it opened.

    I have also seen drastic changes in the centre. The first year was terrible for everyone... parents and management at the centre.

    After the first year the school was completely reorganised and reshaped. They found more experienced staff. The staff for the first year did not care about the children.

    We all knew the problem because of lack of funds. They had lots of meeting with parents about the problem. They were trying hard to organise it as a charity. I know for a fact that not 100 BZ goes in the pockets of the owners.

    The teachers did a walk out in the middle of the day that first year. IS this the way you show you care about those children?? These are special needs children, not children in a normal classroom. If a teacher did not want to continue because of lack of funds and funding she should have said so, not organise a walk out in the middle of the day! This was the wrong thing to do.

    My son is completing his third year at the centre this year. HE is 14 years old. When he started at the centre, he could not speak, he could not dress himself.... now with the speech therapy he has gotten the last 3 years at the centre he is speaking... he is dressing himself... learning to depend on himself... he has also learned the alphabet and is learning to read in Arabic. He is a down syndrome child... and there was nothing else for him before this centre. We are one of the families that are on the social status... we pay 40 RO per month because my husband has a low income. We are not the only family on this status... there are many of us. With out this our children would never get the education that they need. I thank Ms. Kawthar and Ms. Lara every day and pray for this centre to grow and be better, for i have seen the result with my own son... which we never imagined he would come this far.

    This is the only school in Oman that offers social status for families. And gives them good education.... Past teachers say things because they were fired etc.... all schools and business have problems the first year and that is a fact.

    Amna Al-Shamsi

  24. I have known Kawthar for more than 10 years. And she was my daughter's teacher in Qurum Private School about 10 years ago.

    One thing i can say about Kawthar is she is NOT a fraud. She loves children and wants to do the best for them.

    When she was working a Qurum she would take weak children and help them during her break... my daughter included. No other teacher I know would ever do something like this. Most teachers care only about their pay... Kawthar was not like this... She always put the children first.

    I know about this center and all the problems that occured there... She has tried her best and she is succeeding....slowly. Those that talk bad about her, do not know her as I do. Sometimes you try your best and it is not enough. I know she has the best interest of the children and families at heart and she is never one to think about what is in her wallet. She will give her last Rial to someone on the street that asks for it.

    She has worked hard for this center and she has worked hard to get scholorships for those families that are poor. People should support her, not bring up the problems that happened in the first year. This happens with all new business. I know her center is for no profit.

    Its also worth knowing that she has just taken up a collection for the orphanage just a few weeks back of clothing and other items... so no one can tell me that she is a bad person or selfish. I know what she has done for those children and I know what she tries to do for other unfortunate people in Oman.

  25. Thank you my teachers and others that stood up for this center. You are great! A very special Thanks for you Fatima and Mohammed T.

    The center has come a long way from the first year that it was opened... especially since we gotten better staff members... and more experienced staff. That was the worse year of my life!!

    The center is thriving now and teachers and students are happy. We do have sponsors... one being Bank Sohar and there are quite a few others as well...and most of them have asked for financial statements before they have become a sponsor.

    The first year we did have staff that were not experienced... and they were fired... we had one lady that was beating and pinching children... she was fired immediately... yes, there are old staff that still like to talk about us in a negative way... but they are probably some of the ones either my husband or i fired... and for very good reasons.. for me the children all come first.... and that is important...

    If anyone has any questions about the center... why not just go and see it, instead of not knowing who is right or wrong... go and see for yourself what is there and how hard our teachers work with these kids. Some of the people that posted in our behalf have been to the center recently... so they know what is there and they know what is going on. They are not thinking about what the center was three years ago... they are thinking about what is today, and what we need today!

    This kind of school takes years to build up. It doesn't happen over night... and this is probably the first year where I am almost satisfied with the way things have gone, and with the progress the children have made. Since i put IEPs into place last year, I can now track each child's progress... and this year there has been lots of progress...I believe next year will be even better.

    There are people in the world that do not wish success on anyone but themselves... but this center will be successful and those children will thrive!

  26. Thank you very much for this interview, it's amazing, an eye opening one.
    I always wanted to do volunteering work, I think this's our chance.

    and for handicapped kids, the sultanate must do more regarding this social group because they deserve all what normal people deserve,

    I'd like to thank Kawthar as well for her initiative and for taking responsibility to open such beneficial center. May Allah bless her and reward her for what she's doing..

    All the best.

  27. It is clear from a number of comments that there were problems at Mrs Kawthers previous establishment, despite other commentators immediately shooting down critical comments and trying to rubbish them.

    I also know Mrs Kawther and also know very well a very caring individual who was employed by her at the first establishment. She was never paid for her work and as a result did not continue working for Mrs Kawther.

    Because of my own opinion of Mrs Kawther formed through my own dealings with her and the stories heard about her previous centre, I personally would also be very wary of donating to her centre unless there was absolute transparency and financial accountability and would certainly take her claims with a large pinch of salt.

  28. I've been reading these comments with interest. I've been to the centre and it needs a lot of funding for proper equipment both educational (as in montessori) and physical. I felt Mrs Kawther is trying her best with the best of what she's got. I felt with the proper facilities this centre could be top class. I do agree though that transperancy is the key, yes rental is costly, food is costly, wages cost. But if the centre is open to the public and you see changes then all would benefit. I'm sure there are countless expat women who would willingly spend a few hours per day at the center on a volunteer basis if they but know of the place. Special educational training would be the icing on the cake but at the end of the day sometimes a hug, a smile a few songs make a huge difference to a small child.
    Another point I'd like to make special children are not necessarily a result of inbreeding or old age, they happen and I'd like to share a poem I found on the internet when my nephew was born which to me summed up what special children are and so it goes:

    My face may be different
    But my feelings the same
    I laugh and I cry
    And I take pride in my gains
    I was sent here among you
    To teach you to love
    As God in the heavens
    Looks down from above
    To Him I'm no different
    His love knows no bounds
    It's those here among you
    In cities and towns
    That judge me by standards
    That man has imparted
    But this family I've chosen
    Will help me get started
    For I'm one of the children
    So special and few
    That came here to learn
    The same lessons as you
    That love is acceptance
    It must come from the heart
    We all have the same purpose
    Though not the same start
    The Lord gave me life
    To live and embrace
    And I'll do as you do
    But at my own pace (Creed of Babies with Down syndrome)

    Lets all get involved and make a centre that Muscat can be truly proud of.

  29. Is anyone capable of doing the highschool program or is this only for special kids?

    Will the ministry of education in Oman register the exam taker as a highschool graduate?

  30. is the ministry of Education aware of the highschool program? will they stamp the certification as an acknowledgment?

  31. Hi,
    I am glad to see this post... I am a Trainer by profession and I would like to know how I can be a volunteer in helping the students.


  32. i cannot afford expensive education for my son but he deserves education. but the normal school costs me aorund Ro 50 / mo and he is going to that but he is not producing results as he has been diagnosed with Autism he is 15 year old but very sharp and deserves a better chance at life how can i be helped with my son - please need advice --- sbmalik1972 @ yahoo . com - parent in need of guidance and support.


If you wish to post anonymously, please pick a nickname by selecting the Name/URL option, or at least sign off your comment with one! I will delete comments I find objectionable or needlessly inflammatory. Sorry for the word verification.... OMG the spam has gotten BAD these past 12 months... trying to avoid making one log in...