On World Down Syndrome Day, Lolwa Alshafai, a student of QF’s Awsaj Academy, writes that being different does not mean being incapable of love, or to dream and succeed.
I am Lolwa Alshafai, and I am 14 years old, a student at Awsaj Academy, and I am very friendly and kind. I have a leadership personality – so I’m told, and hence, everyone listens to what I say. I like to send positive energy and vibes to everyone around me; and I like to wear the Qatari abaya and sheila as do all girls of my age. Today is a special day dedicated to me and my friends with love syndrome, which is also called "Down Syndrome". And therefore, I have decided to tell you a little about me, so you realize how special and unique I am.
When I was only two days old, my mother realized that I have a special condition that makes me look different from others. She cried, not because she did not love me, but because she was aware of the challenges, she would face raising me. This droves her to quit her job, teach me at home and in specialized centers, and devote herself to me.
Over the years, I realized how much I would tire my mother out – she would be exhausted – but she always amazed me with her patience and persistence to make me and my life better.
Despite the mental traits that characterize children with Down Syndrome – such as poor memory, impaired ability to concentrate, and think and calculate – proper care and development of language, social and intellectual skills can make our lives easier. My mother realized this and was able to help me overcome obstacles so that I could enjoy life around me, just like others.
I remember very well that my mother used to take me to the park to play, and once, I saw her crying after having a short chat with another mother who had asked her to not let me get close to her child. She told my mother that her daughter was not normal, and that she should keep her at home.
I wonder why some people avoid us. Is it because we look different that makes them hesitate to approach us? Or their lack of awareness? Just like most people, we are also social, and we have a beautiful spirit – so when we will be accepted? And when will the stares of people turn from looks of concern to friendliness?
The lack of awareness has made some people deal with us in different ways. I remember that my first teacher in school was afraid of me and was constantly alert, which deprived me of enjoying my learning at school. She would not give me a pen to write, fearing I would use it in the wrong way to hurt my classmates. And she wouldn’t let me walk alone in the corridors of the school, because she thought I would do something unexpected. I wanted to tell her that I am capable and all I need is for her to trust me. But she didn't. And this is why my mother transferred me to another school, Awsaj Academy – part of Qatar Foundation’s Pre-University Education.
Now, my mother always tells others about how Awsaj Academy changed my life, and made me a better person, and therefore, it is the ideal place for children with special challenges. It develops our skills, imparts education, and most importantly, does not treat differently.
My teacher at Awsaj Academy allows me to play with my friends without feeling anxious. She lets go of my hand so that I can move more freely and participate in all the activities that I love. She praised me when I succeeded and punished me when I made a mistake – all of this made me realize that I am just like everyone else.
At Awsaj Academy, I also learned to read and write stories in English – without errors! And I also studied science, mathematics, and all the other subjects that allow me to grow.
I applied all my skills – everything that I learned at school – with my family at home, and because I have leadership qualities, they call me “the manager” at home. I express my opinions with confidence. And I have already defined my path for the future, which is to graduate from Awsaj Academy and join a university and work. I will also get married and have my own family.
All this confidence and clarity comes to me because of my mother. It is because my mother believed in me that learned to believe in myself. She accepted me for who I am and encouraged others to accept me. She defended me and today, on World Down Syndrome Day, I defend our rights as children with Down Syndrome.
We have many challenges in our lives, and we need your support to overcome them. Your appreciation, respect, and love for us can make a huge difference in our lives, so give us the chance to show you how beautiful we can be.