Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar (VCUarts Qatar) recently held an event to mark 15 years of its relationship with the Qatar chapter of Best Buddies.
Teachers, staff and students and their parents from Al Shafallah Centre for Persons with Disability, senior representatives from the US embassy in Qatar and from the Qatar Foundation (QF) partner universities along with members of the VCUarts Qatar community attended the activity-packed occasion.
VCUarts Qatar was the first QF partner university to set up the Best Buddies College Programme Club in Education City. VCUarts Qatar staff member Margarita Zuniga, currently the community relations co-ordinator, along with her children, pioneered the club in the summer of 2008. Since then, VCUarts Qatar’s community regularly dedicated time to organising art workshops to integrate persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities and delays, providing opportunities that lead to better understanding and acceptance in the wider community.
An exhibition showcasing artwork and designs created during these workshops was part of the celebratory event. The artworks included screen-printed t-shirts, embroidery and framed mixed media pieces.
Laalei-abuAlfain, executive director, Al Shafallah Centre for Persons with Disability, said: “We are pleased to celebrate 15 years of the relationship between Best Buddies Qatar and VCUarts Qatar. The club at VCUarts Qatar was the first college club focusing on the social inclusion of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, in Qatar. This club, as all Best Buddies clubs aim to do, increases awareness about the rights of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities for social inclusion and integration.”
Reflecting on the impact of the collaboration, Amir Berbic, dean of VCUarts Qatar, said: “The work this organisation has done with us over the past 15 years is remarkable – Best Buddies provides support and friendship to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities – pairing people with special needs with a buddy who is there to offer support, friendship and a sense of belonging. Through their programmes, they have helped break down barriers and promote a culture of acceptance and understanding. We look forward to many more years of partnership.”
Omar Nasser al-Khanji, a special guest speaker at the event, shared his experience as the first Qatari Best Buddies Pair partner at VCUarts Qatar. He told how meaningful it was to him. He and his paired buddy shared many experiences, including being travelling ambassadors for the Qatar programme, visiting Washington, DC and meeting the American founders of the programme.