A Glimpse into the lives of Qatari children with Down syndrome

Photo exhibition by the World Innovation Summit for Health, at Doha Fire Station

Nawaf and Anfal are two young Qatari children and the focus of an upcoming photo exhibition curated by the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH). Both are students at Shafallah Center, a comprehensive and non-profit center dedicated to children with special needs in Qatar.

Both love to go to school, actively participate in creative activities such as painting, live with loving families, and spread their affection wherever they go. There is one more thing that is common to both children in that they have Down syndrome – a genetic condition caused by an extra chromosome in some or all the body’s cells which can lead to delays in a person’s growth, development, and learning.

Often upon learning that someone has a disability, physical or mental, many people tend to view their whole existence and life through the lens of that disability. This attitude risks undermining the individualistic characteristics and aspirations of disabled members of society and can lead to their marginalization and seclusion from many facets of life. Such attitudes, which view disability as a weakness and evoke only sympathetic reactions, need to be re-evaluated and the focus of the conversation around disabilities needs to be shifted to be more open, empathetic, and inclusive.

To support this change and open up such conversations, Mahmoud El Achi, an avid photographer and Head of Innovation at WISH, wants the public to get a glimpse into the lives of these 10-year old children through his photo exhibition titled “Nawaf and Anfal”. After having his personal views about disabilities and the people it affects changed at a photo exhibition that he visited in Sweden earlier this year, Mahmoud thinks that art is an effective way to combat prejudices and stigmas that are often held against those with disabilities, including Down syndrome.

“This exhibition invites you to, in a way, immerse yourself in the lives of Nawaf and Anfal, and many others like them, and offers the clarity that can give us an opportunity to see a person beyond their disability. My goal with this exhibition is to encourage everyone to divorce the disability from the person, and appreciate how, despite challenges they may face, disabled persons do still live their life to the fullest, are supported by their families, give back to their communities and continue to realize their fullest potential,” said El Achi.

“Being Arab myself, I have often observed that families with a disabled member or child are often met with some sense of pity by others. Sometimes families are either ashamed of their disabled child or simply think that the child is less capable, so they keep the child protected at home. By doing so, they limit the child’s exposure to society and opportunities. This needs to change.”

“Open conversation is critical so that we can nurture the capabilities and creativity of people with disabilities, and especially of children like my son, to help them productively integrate into society. Given the right support and opportunities, these children have a lot to offer and it is up to us – the community – as a whole to create and improve those opportunities. That starts with understanding, acceptance and inclusive dialogue which is why we are looking forward to having the public attend this exhibition.”, said Nawaf’s mother.

To join the conversation, members of the public can attend the photo exhibition opening, which will be held on the first day of WISH’s Doha Healthcare Week, at 7.30pm on September 29 at the Fire Station. The exhibition will remain open until October 7. More details are available HERE.

This exhibition is an important step toward broadening the conversation surrounding disability and portraying how we can support the societal integration of disabled people. Along with organizing this exhibition, WISH will lead and support various initiatives that focus on disability, inclusion and health, and these themes will be a key focus of discussions at the upcoming WISH 2022 summit on October 4-6 as well.

WISH is Qatar Foundation’s global health initiative. To register your interest in attending the WISH 2022 summit, visit wish.org.qa.  


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