Sweet and special

A group of five girls sat around a table engrossed in work when Muscat Daily visited the recently opened sweet shop in Musannah. It sells a variety of sweets, mostly made from dates. But that’s not what makes Atheer Delights special. The sweets made and sold at this shop are all made by the five girls who have special needs and are differently-abled.

The effort and objective behind this pathbreaking initiative make the sweets available at Atheer Delights only naturally more special, if not sweeter. Adding to the novelty is the fact that all this is done under little supervision. Attractively packaged and presented, there’s no telling these  products are any different from established business ventures.

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According to Amal al Balushi, who spearheaded the project with her husband Khalid al Balushi, the shop is named after their 15 year old daughter who completed grade nine this year, which is the highest level of academic education currently available to special needs children. She described Atheer as having a mental development disability.

“When she turned 15, I started to train her at home to be self-dependent. I made sure to train her away from fire. In four months, I taught her how to make sweets, mainly out of dates. Now, she can make four varieties on her own,” Amal said.

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Atheer's sister Hams, who is in grade seven, has the same disability and in two years, she will be out of school. “We decided to start this project so that Atheer and Hams don’t have to idle away time sitting at home.”

When Amal and Khalid started working on the project, Atheer suggested involving her former classmates in it. “We talked to their parents who readily agreed,” Amal said.

According to her, the project is for children with all kinds of disabilities. “Since we started the project two months ago, there has been good response from the public. The Instagram page has many followers too. The project is gaining popularity and those who have bought and tasted the sweets are very happy.”

Amal and her husband are currently funding the project, which includes raw material expenses, shop rent and the girls' salaries. “We are taking care of all expenses, barring decoration of the outlet for which the Rafd Fund has offered help. Decoration work is going on and once it is done, it will look great and woo more customers,” Khalid said, as he showed Muscat Daily an artist’s impression of the outlet.

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“Soon after  proper branding, we will reach out to companies for support. This project is the first of its kind in the region and I believe it’ll help the government. Instead of taking these children to other organisations seeking help, they can join us and develop skills as they earn. It can be a win-win situation for them and the country,” Khalid said.

He is hopeful of there being demand for the products of Atheer Delights which would in turn allow him to happily train and recruit more children with special needs. “We have not broken even yet,” Khalid added. Other associations involved in special needs children are now helping market the project. “We hope the Ministry of Social Development gives us more support,” Khalid said.

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Future plans for Atheer Delights include reaching out to more people by opening points of sale in popular malls. “We can also employ individuals with other forms of disabilities, like hearing impairment or physically handicapped, to do the sales of the products in malls,” Khalid said, confident of a bright outcome for Atheer Delights.

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