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Thursday, May 26, 2022

“We want to break the stereotype mindset in South Asians of hiding their special need kids, they deserve to feel loved and appreciated too”. Inspirational charity echoes message of acceptance with delivering gifts in Christmas bus with the help of Santa Clause himself!

A local charity in Kirklees’ Christmas party for autistic and down syndrome children was cancelled with the new outbreak of the COVID-19 Omicron variant which has swept across Kirklees.

Downs and Special Friends is a support group founded in 2016 and are based around Batley and Dewsbury. The group has over 200 plus members for parents on how they can support their children who are autistic, have down syndrome or suffer from cystic fibrosis. Downs and Special Friends not only offers support but runs events for the children and families throughout the year.

Akhtar Kasia, the founding member and vice chairman of Downs and Special Friends got the sad news on Thursday 9 December and was told the Christmas party event would need to be cancelled. The event was expected to take place in PKWA in Batley on Sunday 12 December but after the rise of COVID-19 Omicron cases it was cancelled.

Mr Kasia was heartbroken but quickly decided to think of an alternative plan to try and continue the event. He was struck with the idea of instead of having the kids come and visit his good friend Santa, he would take Santa with him to the children who couldn’t meet him because of the party being cancelled.

Immediately, Mr Kasia rang one of his good friends Nisar Bengali from Mini Travel Executive and asked him to help him out on pulling this master plan. Thankfully, Mr Bengali was available, and they penciled in 21 December to take Santa and the remarkable volunteers who were available on this magical journey.

But, before heading out, Mr Kasia expressed they needed to ‘doll the bus up’ to make it remarkable to leave a lasting impression on the children and families they visited. He also mentioned he didn’t want to go empty handed and got the help from a lot of local businesses who were eager to help in any way they could.

Mr Kasia explained, “We had a lot of people help us in buying the gifts. Sajid Hussain from Purpose of Life donated £300. The local councils helped by giving us £500 and Saf Laher from Al—Mubarak radio gave us over 100 selection boxes. We normally get a lot of help without going out of our way to ask, and its such an amazing thing to see how many people support us”.

Once stocked and loaded with gifts, Mr Kasia and the rest of Santa’s little helpers started decorating the bus at around 9:00AM. It took them almost three hours to complete and they left at 11:45AM.

Santa’s magical bus went across certain towns within Kirklees such as, Dewsbury, Batley, Heckmondwike and Mirfield.

When asked about the response, Mr Kasia explained it was brilliant. He adds, “Oh my god, I can’t even express into words how amazing it was. We had neighbours coming out into the streets to see this bus.

“They’d never seen anything like this before. Children and parents were asking if they could come inside the bus and see how it looked. We even went into Batley town and the response was honestly brilliant”.

The most important element Mr Kasia stressed about the reasoning for this whole bus ride was to not only bring the smile on the faces of the children but for them to know that they are loved too.

He explains, “We want to break the stereotype mindset in South Asians of hiding their special need kids, they deserve to feel loved and appreciated too.

“Its absolutely crucial these kids feel the same if not more attention than other kids because they face a lot growing up suffering from the conditions they have.

The main reason why Mr Kasia is so fueled in creating these types of events for children who suffer from down syndrome and other conditions is because he openly admits having a 16-year-old son who is Autistic. Mr Kasia explains the struggles they faced with their son and his childhood as he stresses,

“For us it was difficult because there were no support groups or anything that we had to support our son. When we started reaching out and created a Facebook page. We realised there were so many other families who also had kids that had their own difficulties”.

“I believe that was one of the main reasons to do all this and set up this charity is because we wanted to connect with other families and be proud of the children we had despite what others had to say or think”.

He finally explained, parents who have children that have down syndrome shouldn’t feel ‘embarrassed or hide away their children, it’s very important they also feel included in weddings, going out and take part in events etc’. Not only in Kirklees but other regions such as Bradford, Leeds and Manchester there are loads of charities out there to support children with special needs.

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