Dubai, February 2012:  It was my first time at the Pavilion Downtown Dubai.  It was 9:45 am when I arrived at this new art space based in Dubai’s Downtown area, where you can have a cuppa, while enjoying the great view of the Burj Khalifa.

I like the space and the layout of the place as well as the decor. Whilst waiting for the children from the Dubai Autism Centre to arrive, I couldn’t resist taking a few photos. I enjoyed breakfast which had an Arabic slant to it.


This was my first volunteering stint with the START organisation founded by the Madad Foundation in Dubai.  Since my increased interest around the topic of art therapy and as START offers such workshops for children with special needs, this, I knew, was going to be a great chance to try it out.

This is where I sat and had Arabic themed breakfast and lovely coffee while waiting for the children to arrive. © Jan D’sa, 2012


The children trailed into the Pavilion along with their carers/teachers. We gathered in the wooden cabin and in the presense of START Regional Manager, Nicola Lee who is an artist herself and happens to be the volunteer liaison, so if you wish to volunteer at the art workshops, she is the one to get in touch with.

The wooden cabin where we sat painting away. © Jan D’Sa 2012


The children had various degrees of autism. Some of them needed serious attention. The children were supplied with paper and crayons to try and sketch a pot filled with live plants and flowers. The child assigned to me needed assistance to sketch the illustration while there were others who were happy to paint without any help. I gave the child the choice of colours he wanted to paint his illustration with and from his face, I knew he was content.

The next exercise required the children to take photographs within the premises with the Kodak film camera. I could see that the child assigned to me enjoyed taking photos. I suggested various venues within the premises where he could click away. The children were then allowed to go outside in the nice winter sun and capture photos. Obviously, the first stop for most of the children was the group of statues standing in front of the Pavilion, but with the Burj Khalifa as the backdrop.

I couldn’t taking the photo of the statues with the Burj Khalifa as the backdrop. © Jan D’sa, 2012

The last exercise was back in the wooden cabin. Some of the children chose to draw from books whilst others decided to sketch whatever they felt like. The child assigned to me chose to sketch an illustration of a cloud, which was actually the cloud stemming from the atomic bomb over Japan. He was happy to sign off the paintings that he had made.

I wonder how the photos that were taken by the children came out. I hope they have had some great memories of the day. I certainly did.

Photo of the whole group. I’m in 2nd row, kind-of squatting behind the kids. Photo taken by START world.

I’d like to thank Nicola for giving me the chance to spend time with the children. I came back appreciating the fullness of my own life, filled with beautiful things and more.

START organisation holds similar art workshops for children with special needs, all around Dubai, Abu Dhabi and also in Jordan. Best contact them if you wish to volunteer. All information is on the START website.