Abu Dhabi, UAE: Humaid Al Mehri excitedly tells everyone within earshot that it is the birthday of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.
The 28-year-old sits in front of a computer to write Sheikh Mohammed a letter that begins: “Your Highness, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed … My dream is to meet you.”
He has difficulty with spelling the words and forming the sentences, but is, nevertheless, pleased with his results.
“I know this will reach Sheikh Mohammed and he will come see me. He is humble and sees everyone,” he says.
Mr Al Mehri, who is mentally disabled, is a student at the Abu Dhabi Centre for Care and Rehabilitation.
He has twice missed the chance to meet Sheikh Mohammed – once during the Crown Prince’s visit to the centre (Humaid was absent that day), and another at Emirates Palace.
“He has been telling me that he wants to see the Crown Prince ever since I can remember,” says Wedad Al Mubarak, head of activities at the centre.
“And whenever Sheikh Mohammed appears on television, whatever time of day it is, he calls me to complain that everyone gets to see the Crown Prince except him.”
Ms Al Mubarak and Nawal Saeed, a specialist teacher, have taken it upon themselves to help grant the wishes of those with special needs in a programme they have dubbed “My Dream”.
“We started three years ago and began with one girl who came to me and told me her dream was to learn karate,” says Ms Al Mubarak. “We contacted Abu Dhabi Sports club and she spent a day with them. She has never forgotten the experience, and is always talking about it.”
To date, the pair have managed to turn the dreams of 150 people into reality.
Every year the centre sponsors a trip abroad for special-needs orphans – but one year, a student outside the group dreamt of visiting Disneyland. So the centre took him to Disneyland Paris.
“This student never spoke to anyone before and was very private,” says Ms Al Mubarak.
“He completely changed after this trip and I discovered a new personality in him.”
Indeed, trips abroad have a huge effect on the participants. They become more sociable, outgoing and independent, says Ms Al Mubarak, adding that such trips are often their first.
However, many parents of children with special needs leave them at home when they travel abroad with the rest of the family, Ms Saeed says.
“Most believe that the child doesn’t understand and it won’t make a difference,” she says.
“What the parents don’t understand is that these trips completely change a disabled child and they appreciate them even more than anybody else.”
In any case it is not possible for the centre to realise the dreams of every student. “Some students have small dreams such as iPads or remote-controlled planes. Our biggest challenges are those like Humaid who want to meet Sheikh Mohammed. How can we do that?” says Ms Al Mubarak.
Salem Al Tamimi, a 22-year-old student, says his only wish is to meet Sheikh Mohammed “and tell him that I love him. I want to put a scarf with the UAE flag on his shoulders”.
Another group of students wanted to travel to Britain to attend a Manchester City football match. This, too, proved to be impractical.
Three years ago an organisation promised to sponsor the students’ travel to Manchester to watch a game.
“The students were all excited and prepared. Unfortunately the organisation cancelled at the last minute and said they did not have the funds to send the students,” says Ms Al Mubarak.
“We didn’t want to let the students down and told them that, God willing, they will go one day. They remind me of that almost every day.”
© The NationalMar 2015