Abeer Al-Banna, a mother-of-five and a teacher at Awsaj Academy, talks about how the two pillars of her life- her family and her teaching- interconnect.
When I was just nine years old, I was in a hospital, visiting my sick father, when I met a boy whose features were different than the others. Being young, I was nervous when I saw him, but he seemed kind and innocent. This was the first time I encountered Down syndrome.
That memory came to my mind 14 years later, when I was again in hospital and opened the medical file for the twins that I had just given birth to. It read “Features similar to Down syndrome features”.
I said to myself:” They are beautiful, with almond eyes like their aunt's eyes, they also have two lines in the palms of their hands, not just one. How can there be anything wrong?”. It would be 21 days before the test results came in. So, I waited.
While my husband was celebrating the birth of his two children, Anas and Faris, by praying to God and distributing sweets to everyone around us, I used to carry them after everyone slept - and cry. I did not reject them, or the will of god, but I feared my inability to take care of them. I hid my fear from everyone, even their father, because I did not want to spoil his joy. Until it was time to receive the test results.
The ‘love syndrome’
"As you know, children with Down syndrome have many health problems and challenges." This is what the doctor told me, so I asked him in shock: "Who are you talking about? Who has Down syndrome?"
The doctor was unaware that I had not yet seen the results. While I cried, my husband received the news calmly, despite his fear and anxiety. Like me, he did not know much about Down syndrome, but what we knew was that we would love our new twins and build this love as a family. After all, isn’t Down syndrome also known as "love syndrome”?
In the first years, our lives were dominated by medical appointments, periodic checks, and enduring attempts to understand everything related to Down syndrome.
In the first years, our lives were dominated by medical appointments, periodic checks, and enduring attempts to understand everything related to Down syndrome. We received support from the Child Development Center of Rumailah Hospital, through an early intervention rehabilitation program. We also developed a feeling of acceptance of our children’s condition, and we developed activities designed to enhance their skills.
Whenever we made progress, our souls were filled with satisfaction, and we recognized that Anas and Faris are two gifts from God, through which we realized that life is nothing but an attempt at unlimited giving.
Years after their birth, Anas and Faris joined Al Shafallah Center for Special Needs. It was both an important period and a difficult one, as it meant the twins moving away from me for the first time since their birth. I remember how Anas would sit in a chair near the entrance for two hours or more, waiting for my return. And how Faris would walking around the center in a state of great tension, until I come back.
But while it was a difficult decision, it was also the right one and the wise one. Anas and Faris learned a lot in Al Shafallah Center, and I will never forget the moment when they first wrote their names, which signaled the beginning of a phase of progress, academic learning, and social inclusion.
In the same year, I joined Awsaj Academy – part of Qatar Foundation’s Pre-University Education- I have now spent more than 10 years there, as a teacher and a mother, and it has been a unique academic and human experience.
Awsaj Academy is the only school of its kind in Qatar dedicated to working with students who are facing learning challenges. and being a mother of twins with Down syndrome, I found it the best place for me to obtain the knowledge that enables me to support my sons’ development, and to transfer my own experience to my students.
The vision of Awsaj Academy is to unlock the learning capabilities of each student, which I believe is the best way to teach. The teacher's confidence in the capabilities of each of their students, and the spirit in which they teach, is essential to the success of the entire educational process.
The beauty of difference
In both my home and Awsaj Academy, I aim to share positive energy. I bring the happiness that I get from my twins laughing and distribute that happiness within my class. In the same way, I carry the joy and enthusiasm of my students, and spread it within my house. The positive effect I gain from both aspects of my life is shared.
Do we all have our own special fingerprint? Yes, isn’t being different what motivates us to create and be unique? Absolutely
People with Down syndrome may not speak in the same way as you or I, but they are able to say 1,000 words with one glance. Their features express their feelings, and they show amazing kindness.
They make us laugh, as they race to welcome and show hospitality to guests, compete over who puts the shirts in the washing machine first, and get upset at their brother because he did not arrange his bed.
They love life, accept people, smile and salute them. Yes, they may be different, but who said that difference reduces the beauty of its owner? Are we all the same? No. Do we all have our own special fingerprint? Yes, isn’t being different what motivates us to create and be unique? Absolutely.
My twins have inspired me to become an active person in my community, and so they have made me a better person. Behind every positive change in our lives is someone who inspires us, who shows us that our existence in life is not a pure coincidence.
Anas and Faris taught me that the beauty of life lies in its smallest being, including children. And they will be my children forever. The Down syndrome with which they were born gives their character a permanent childhood, spreading love towards everyone, and planting smiles in our hearts.