Gulshan Kavarana speaks about the support group she has been running for over two decades.
Over two decades ago, a journey that started in a living room, has now offered help and growth to more than 1000 lives in the form of a support group for families and children with special needs — Special Families Support (SFS).
Article by Hussein Rizvi | Khaleej Times
Led by Gulshan Kavarana, a Dubai resident for the last 24 years, SFS was formed in 1999 to support people of determination that also require medical and educational support. It is a free-to-join support group that now has chapters in Bahrain as well as Mumbai.
SFS’s inception dates back to the time when Kavarana’s younger daughter, Zara was diagnosed with epilepsy. Kavarana, who volunteered at Dubai Center for Special Needs at that time, was recommended to join a support group. However, having no luck in finding a support group, Kavarana created her own. Now, she runs SFS alongside an old friend, Hanifa Saleem.
The group’s first meet comprised of six families in Kavarana’s apartment. In a conversation with City Times, Kavarana describes the first-ever SFS meet as a powerful moment. “It was truly overwhelming listening to all their stories and knowing that we were not alone on this journey,” she said.
SFS continued to expand with more and more families joining the support group. It also became a hub for various activities for specially-abled people. Kavarana organised summer camps and roped in volunteers from different schools and universities, who even brought a friend or a sibling along at the camps.
The families started to gather on a regular basis and organising such meets posed a challenge for Kavarana. “Those were days without the ease of the internet and WhatsApp,” Kavarana said, adding that she used to phone each of the families and invite them. “These calls were long as the mothers, fathers, sometimes even grandmothers, and siblings would want to share their feelings.”
However, in 2020, SFS was struck with another challenge in a world haunted by the novel coronavirus. The pandemic left the special needs community completely isolated. That is when Kavarana, along with Saleem and other volunteers, came together to entertain people of determination amid the virus threats. The group organised Zoom meetings with celebrities like Arshad Warsi, Boman Irani, and many more to interact with families of those with special needs.
Recently, veteran Bollywood actor Jackie Shroff took part in a Zoom session to interact with such families. Shroff, who is known for movies like Hero, Ram Lakhan, and King Uncle, interacted with the kids in his own eccentric style. The families sang famous songs from his films like Tera Naam Liya with Jackie himself humming along with the participants. At the end of the session, Shroff felt “blessed” to have interacted with people of determination.
Now, Kavarana, 57, looks back at all the years of making a difference among families of the specially-abled. “We have seen miracles happen, we have seen them grow into beautiful humans beings,” she said, adding that children and adults with special needs truly are our “master teachers”.
Before signing off, Kavarana pays homage to all those who helped her in the 21-year journey. “We would be nothing without the support of my husband, Zeheer, my daughter, Jenai, and our sponsors,” she said, adding that without their generosity and kindness, SFS would not be able to reach where it is today: a part of so many lives, in so many countries.