A pioneer in the development of the UAE’s Down Syndrome Association, Sonia exemplifies how a mother’s indomitable will can move mountains. When her son, Saif, was diagnosed with Down Syndrome, it became her mission at just age 21 to raise awareness about children with the condition and help integrate them into society.
“I had to change my mindset, environment and life. I no longer thought about my career because I wanted to give Saif my full attention,” says Sonia. “Initially, books about Down Syndrome weren’t easily available in the UAE, so I ordered a few from the US. I had to translate them into Arabic and write down notes for clearer understanding. But that wasn’t enough for me.”
The lack of social awareness and stigma associated with the condition propelled Sonia to share the knowledge she gained through her research. She spoke with various support groups, and it was during her discussion with one in 2006 that the idea of establishing the Emirates Down Syndrome Association was born.
Two months later, their vision became a reality with the help of Her Excellency Maryam Al Roumi, UAE’s Minister of Social Affairs.
Sonia served as Chairperson of the Association from 2007 till 2016, but gaining a title was never the goal for her—it was the ability to introduce early intervention, speech and occupational therapies, and educational programmes for people with Down Syndrome. “The strength of the whole society helped us fight for the rights and dignity of people of determination. Achieving this vision was a huge group effort that wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the UAE leaders,” she notes.
She’s presently an honorary member of the Emirates Down Syndrome Association and teaches art in ‘Mama Sonia’s Art Classes’ to children. On a personal front, her commitment to ensuring a fulfilling life for her son, Saif, led him to pursue swimming and bowling on a professional level. He’s now a celebrated Special Olympics swimmer, who has won over 40 medals in national and international competitions worldwide.