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INSPIRATIONAL teenager Rhea D’Mello has told the world how being born with Down syndrome will not stop her from reaching her full potential or prevent her from paving the way to a successful career.
The Indian expat, a trainee teaching assistant at RIA Institute, was invited to travel to the UK to talk about her life in Bahrain and her personal struggles and aspirations at an international conference. She delivered an impressive PowerPoint presentation to an audience of 1,000 delegates.
Rhea, 19, who is also a brand ambassador for a yoga organisation for the young, travelled to Birmingham, frequently referred to as the second city of England, with Christine Gordon, MBE, who founded the Adliya centre in 1999 with her husband, Dr Emad El Attar, to support and educate children with special needs.
“During the conference, I was nervous about sharing my story at the start but later I was fine and spoke without any fear,” said Rhea. “It was my first time doing anything like this.
“I was happy to tell people about my experiences. I get to help other students with their classwork and assist the teachers when asked. Being a part of the RIA Institute has made me independent and helped make my life interesting. I love music, dance and working with children.
“I know life has a lot of challenges, but every day can be awesome if you take one day at a time.”
That’s exactly the mantra that Rhea’s mum Sylvia, 47, a secretary, and dad, David, an electrical engineer, lived by from the moment she was born.
Down syndrome occurs when an individual has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21. This additional genetic material alters the course of development and causes the characteristics associated with the condition.
A few of the common physical traits are low muscle tone, small stature, an upward slant to the eyes, and a single deep crease across the centre of the palm. Every person with Down syndrome is a unique individual and may possess these characteristics to different degrees or not at all.
People with Down syndrome attend school, work, participate in decisions that affect them, have meaningful relationships, vote and contribute to society in many wonderful ways.
All people with Down syndrome experience cognitive delays, but the effect is usually mild to moderate and is not indicative of the many strengths and talents that each individual possesses.
Quality educational programmes, a stimulating home environment, good health care and positive support from family, friends and the community enable people with Down syndrome to lead fulfilling and productive lives.
“The best advice we got from Rhea’s paediatrician on the day she was born was to take one day at a time,” explained Sylvia. “We immediately accepted the fact and, ever since then, have taken great pleasure in admiring all the milestones that she has reached and surpassed.
“We encourage Rhea to execute certain goals which sometimes stretch her capabilities to the limit but when she achieves those targets you can easily spot the big smile of satisfaction on her face.
“Actually, there is hardly any difference having a child with Down syndrome, except for the additional joys we get to experience from an overtly happy and adorable individual.”
The family says Rhea’s 14-year-old sister, Richa, who attends the Indian School Bahrain, acts as her role model and has really helped her develop.
The recent Inclusion International’s 17th World Congress brought together self-advocates, families, professionals and delegates from 71 countries to learn from and inspire each other. The campaigners are leading the way in making inclusion a reality for people with intellectual disabilities and their families.
Sylvia added: “People with Down syndrome are pleasant, happy and lovers of life. The low IQ thing is a myth - anyone with a heart will see them as a blessing.
“I know they lack in certain areas and may have other shortcomings or health issues, but who doesn’t? They, like all others, have a lot of potential. We should all allow them to be equals, not secluded in schools and society, and give them the opportunity to achieve their dreams.
“The World Congress was a great platform for self-advocates to tell their stories, struggles and successes and Rhea had the opportunity to speak from her heart. Her speech to the delegates was the epitome of all the efforts put in by her and everyone connected to her. We feel extremely proud at the manner in which she delivered it.”
Although her parents could not be with her at the event, Christine said that Rhea did amazingly well. “During the short time I spent with Rhea in the UK she had impeccable manners, was organised and although was shy at first, she soon blossomed,” Christine added.
“She simply took everything in her stride from meeting other delegates to presenting at an international conference. I’m so proud of her and I would say that this lovely young lady is testament to the hard work and dedication of her parents.”
Rhea and her family moved to the kingdom in 2007 after being told that Bahrain was a sociable and friendly island and accepted people from all walks of life.
When Rhea was three-weeks-old, she was enrolled in an Early Intervention Programme at an NGO called Sangath Centre that helped in her physical and mental development in her home state of Goa.
She later joined Chubby Cheeks Primary School, a mainstream school, until the family moved to Bahrain and she joined The New Horizon School from January 2008 to March 2017 where she continued her inclusive academic studies, until the age of 17, excelling in English, art and sports.
In 2011, Rhea enrolled in extra speech therapy sessions at RIA before signing up for full-time tuition. At the age of 18, she wanted to take on more responsibilities. Sylvia said: “We approached Christine, who suggested a teaching assistant’s role to start with and wholeheartedly accepted to train her.”
Since then, Rhea has helped author Sarah Clarke stage the successful recent Art for Autism Awareness Event staged at Harbour Gate. “We had more than 400 adults and children to manage on occasions,” explained Sarah. “Rhea was a great asset to have in our team. She loves helping and that shows in her dedication to her work.”
Rhea’s parents hope that her story will change society’s view of people with special needs and help create more awareness, acceptance and inclusion. Sylvia added: “Our hopes for Rhea in the future are that she can be totally independent and can live a happy and fulfilling life.”