Over two decades ago, Dubai resident – Gulshan Kavarana, started a journey from her living room, which has, as of today, offered support and growth to over a thousand people in the form of a support group for families and children with special needs, titled, ‘Special Families Support’ or SFS. Established in 1999, SFS is a free-to-join support group that now has chapters in Bahrain as well as Mumbai, and supports people of determination that also require medical and educational support.
Bringing much pride to both nations as well as the community, Gulshan Kavarana’s noble efforts were covered in Dubai’s leading daily. The inspiration behind SFS was her younger daughter, Zara, who was diagnosed with epilepsy. Gulshan, who volunteered at Dubai Center for Special Needs at that time, was recommended to join a support group. Unable to find one she created her own Support Group – SFS, which she manages with another friend.
Reminiscing the group’s very first meet, Gulshan shared that it took place in her apartment and comprised six families. It was an empowering moment in her life and she was overwhelmed listening to all their stories and knowing that she was not alone on this journey. SFS’s operations grew in size with more families joining the support group and soon it became a hub for various activities for the differently-abled. She would organise summer camps and rope in volunteers from 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. “Those were days without the ease of the internet and WhatsApp,” she shared, adding that she personally phoned each family and invited them. In 2020, SFS was struck with another challenge as the pandemic took over, leaving the special needs community isolated. That is when Kavarana, along with her friend Hanifa 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, Bollywood actor Jackie Shroff participated in a Zoom session to interact with such families and kids; and sang famous songs from his films. The experience left him feeling “blessed”.
Looking back at her efforts and achievements over the years, 57-year-old Gulshan Kavarana shared, “We have seen miracles happen, we have seen them grow into beautiful humans beings,” adding that those with special needs were truly the ‘master teachers’. Sharing the credit of her incredible 21-year journey, with the support of her husband – Zeheer, daughter – Jenai, and sponsors, Gulshan added that it was their generosity and kindness, that enabled the successes of SFS as a part of so many lives, in so many countries.