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     Volume 5 Issue 92 | April 28, 2006 |

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Getting together for a good cause

Hana Shams Ahmed

The new stars of Bangladesh joined hands with their older counterparts under the glitzy limelight at the Sonargaon Hotel Ballroom for a night of enchanting musical performance. Their objective was benevolent to raise awareness and funds for the autistic children of Bangladesh. The Society for the Welfare of Autistic Children (SWAC) organised this concert on April 23 with 11 of the new-found talents from Close-up 1 along with Shakila Zafar, Kumar Biswajit and the popular band Renaissance.

Shakila Zafar kicked off the event with her popular, melodious tunes to get the sold-out crowd at the Sonargaon Hotel into the groove. She performed three of her romantic numbers starting with 'Tumi jokhon alto korey amai chuye dao' and concluding with the ever-green romantic song on everyone's lips 'Tumi amar prothom shokal'. The crowd appreciated the final song with a huge round of enthusiastic applause.

Shakila Zafar performing at the concert organised by Society for the Welfare of Autistic Children (SWAC)

One significant part of the event was to raise awareness among the people about what autism really is. SWAC was established in February 2000 by a group of parents who found that their children's condition was not properly understood by many teachers and doctors alike. In the mainstream schools these children were not performing well and in society they were stigmatised for being different. But autism is anything but that. According to the 'American Psychiatric Association' autism is a social impairment which makes the autistic person unable to have a proper social interaction with another person, which includes both verbal and non-verbal communication. Autistic persons also display restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour.

The chairperson of SWAC, Anwar Hossain spoke about SWAC and its aims to train and help autistic children and adults lead a normal life. He spoke about the various programmes and training schemes that SWAC have undertaken and the other ones that are in the pipeline. "SWAC is sponsored and made up of parents and generous companies," he continued, "no foreign donation has still been received. We started with six kids and now there are about 60. SWAC is a non-profitable, non-governmental and non-political organisation."

Aadil Haque, a 16-year-old student at SWAC has proved to the world that autism is not a hindrance to achievement. When he was 6 yrs old Aadil became fascinated by a picture book on ancient Egypt that his mother showed him. From then on he took up painting, his favourite subject of art being ancient Egypt. His interest in ancient Egypt compelled him to learn how to read, write and speak properly. His mother, Dr Leedy Haque helped him in his journey to realise his talent. He took part in a competition when he was only 9 yrs old at an autism conference held at Oxford University's Christchurch College. In 2000 he had his first solo exhibition in the UK. He had his first solo exhibition in Dhaka in 2002 at the age of 13. In 2005 Bengal Gallery held his 2nd solo exhibition. In the same year his water colour painting entitled 'Golden Cleopatra' won the first prize at an international art competition 'Egypt in the eyes of the world's children' sponsored by the Egyptian ministry of culture. Aadil also received a gold medal from Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia for 'Golden Cleopatra'. Aadil also received a special award from the chairperson of SWAC and the special guest at the programme Brigadier General Zakir Hossain.

Renaissance's performance was the highlight of the event.

Leedy Haque spoke about how she struggled to raise Aadil. "It has been a big struggle for me. I've picked up tips here and there to make life easier. But for a person who has never heard of autism wouldn't know where to start", she said. She had to travel a lot between England and Bangladesh to settle for a training programme.

"The mainstream school in England just didn't work out because his behaviour problems were only intensifying and got to a point where life was unbearable especially when he started attacking (physically) his older sister," she said.

Nolok mesmerises the audience with his smooth folk numbersc

Speaking about SWAC Leedy says, "SWAC has given a new lease of life to children who have nowhere else to go. Aadil has benefited tremendously by learning the necessary social skills."

Speaking about how an organisation such as SWAC can raise more funds to help the autistic children she said, "They did a very good job with the concert but there could be more fund-raising events at different levels."

Parents, Leedy agrees has a pivotal role to play in helping autistic children overcome their social limitations. "If parents have a fundamental understanding of their child's mind works they are on a good footing. There should be core acceptance and understanding of their children but that is what I've found lacking in the parents in this country", she added.

Aadil Haque receiving the award from SWAC chairperson Anwar Hossain and special guest Brigadier General Zakir Hossain

The close-up one troupe started off with Abir singing a very popular song 'pagla hawar pagal diney'. Ariful followed with his contemporary number. Rashed came next and touched the audience's sensitive side with a soft, melancholy number about how a person feels for a dead mother. The mood was quickly shifted by Rinku with his head-banging folk number. The second runner up at the Close-up 1 competition Beauty brought things down to earth with a very touching folk rendition.

Nolok, the winner of the Close-up 1 competition came to stage with a loud round of applause and immediately got the crowd spellbound with his voice. His rendition of 'Nithur Bondhure' (the song he performed in the third round of the competition) was mesmerising. He hit the high notes very smoothly in the next folk number 'Tribhubone bichaar jedin hoi'. He signed off with the popular number by Kumar Biswajit 'Tomra ektara bajaiyo na'.

Mehrab, the heartthrob of many little girls came next with a fast number, who was followed by Rajib, the runner-up at the competition. Sonia came next with a very mediocre performance of the popular folk number 'Oki garial bhai'. Mahadi captivated the audience with a soft number, which according to him was the breakthrough song for him

in Close-up 1. Rumi was the final Close up 1 contestant and completed the run with a fast contemporary number.

Kumar Biswajit amused the audience with his amicable personality. He opened with a very touching performance of 'Katar Aghat'. The crowd got on their feet with the next lively performance of 'O doctor'. He concluded with another lively performance of 'Ami nei'.

Renaissance, was the highlight of the day and had the audience clapping along with their very popular number 'O nodi re'. The next song, 'Din bodoler khela' and the subsequent ones made the audience explode with applause. Nakib Khan, Renaissance's keyboardist and vocalist incidentally is a part of SWAC. His son Zarif Khan, who is autistic, is a student at SWAC.

You can contact SWAC at
6/2, Block-B, Lalmatia, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Phone: 8118836, 01711-632861
Website: www.swacbd.org
Email: swac@aitlbd.net

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