“I was told he would not live, that he needs to be locked away,” said Saeed Al Rahbi, but today, his son Saleem is practicing to represent Oman in the Abu Dhabi 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games
Saeed Al Rahbi’s wrinkles tell a story of dedication, persistence, and unconditional love.
When his son Saleem, was born with Down Syndrome, doctors weren’t hopeful that he would thrive, though Saeed insisted his son was “healthy”, hence he named him Saleem “Healthy in Arabic”.
Born in the 80s, [They did not know exactly when] Saleem missed out on many health services that weren’t available in the Sultanate at the time for children born with special needs. To his luck, his father never gave up.
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“There was only one private clinic that was ready to follow up on my child’s situation. It was in Mussanah and I used to live in the wilayat of Muscat,” he says.
“I found a private clinic in Mussanah, where Dr. Masood Al Abadi was working. He offered to help but I had to commute more than 100km from Muscat to Mussanah every day after my office hours for check-ups,” says Saeed.
But long drives after long working hours meant nothing to Saeed if it meant ensuring his son’s well-being.
When Saeed wanted to enroll his son into a school, the Ministry of Education did not approve his enrolment in public schools, but his father did not give up and searched for private schools.
“Nothing in life can be achieved without effort and struggle. It’s not easy. I used to take him to public parks and the children’s museum every day after work, so he can learn more about life,” says Saeed.
Luckily, the family eventually found a private school in Darsait and Saleem takes pride that Her Excellency Madiha Al Shaibany, Oman’s current Minister of Education was his teacher.
Saleem is now a well-known bowler, and he’s all set to represent the Sultanate of Oman in the Abu Dhabi 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games and, after two years of practice, Saleem is optimistic about his participation.
“I think I can bag a medal this time. I’ll do my best!” he says.
His father says that while raising a child with Down Syndrome requires special treatment and, more importantly, patience: “No one gave up on him – not his siblings nor his mother,”
Nasser Al Amri, an expert in the field at the Omani Down Syndrome Association says that such stories should inspire families to continue to provide maximum care to children living with Down Syndrome.
“I don’t believe in disability. Anything is achievable with the right attitude and positive thinking. Differently-abled people just need extra attention and they can surprise you with their life skills,” he added.
“It all starts within the family. Saleem’s family was able to provide a quality of life for their son at a time when Oman had minimum health support services. Families nowadays have no excuses,” he states.