Saturday, March 26, 2011

$40,760 for autism from Dubai Twestival

The Dubai Twestival organizers with Yahya Almarzooqi and Sara Baker
We tweeted, we met and we raised money for the Dubai Autism Center (@DubaiAutism) on Thursday night (March 24).

Twitter’s biggest event -- Twestival® (or Twitter Festival) – was celebrated in more than 150 cities around the world, connecting off-line communities on a single day to highlight a great cause and have a fun event. Twestival is the largest global grassroots social media fund-raising initiative so far. 

Dubai Twestival 2011 raised $40,760, second only to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The sum was reached thanks to a generous donation of Dhs. 100,000 by sponsor du (the integrated telecom service provider in the UAE) and the venue hosts, the InterContinental Dubai Festival City.

The mysterious blue complimentary drink
We tweeted...
... and connected with Twestivals around the world
After registering, and enjoying a turquoise blue complimentary drink (to suit the logo colors of du!), we tweeted and mingled, recognized faces from avatars or checked people’s twitter handles on the cards hanging around their necks. There was also food on offer with 50 percent of the price going to the Dubai Autism Center.

But it was quickly time to start the action and raise some money.

PK Gulati
PK Gulati, one of the organizers and driving force behind Dubai Twestival, kick-started the talks. Reminding us that it was our fourth Twestival, he said the funds last raised have built a school in Liberia. There was indeed a screen showing the school.

After giving us some facts and figures about autism, here in the Emirates and worldwide, PK introduced Devina Divecha, one of autism’s biggest advocates, with good reason. Devina’s 15-year-old brother Karan was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder at the age of three. Devina and her mother Adita blog about their experiences with autism in their daily lives at Autism and Us.

Devina told us autism is a “lifelong responsibility,” how having a relative with the disorder “changes your life,” and the difficulties her family, and others like them face. She said “you feel on the fringe of society,” and “we are often kicked out of restaurants and play areas, when we are with Karan.”

Devina Divecha
Devina’s plea: “Give us some respect!”

Sara Ahmad Baker, community service unit head of the Dubai Autism Center, was on the stage next to receive the generous cheque for Dhs. 100,000 from Yahya Almarzooqi, du’s representative at the event. Sarah said the increase in autism is scary but there is hope in finding a cure. “And when that happens, all of you present would have been behind it,” thanks to the sponsorship of, and donations to, the Dubai Autism Center by Dubai Twestival.

Aramex Shop and Ship donated Dhs. 5,000 and then the bidding began (see full list of items here), helped along by Marwan, DJBliss, our favorite Emirati DJ. There was an iPad2, three iPhones 4, Sony Ericssons, Nokias, vouchers from CineMama, and many more items, including a painting. Photographers Derrick Pereira and Candice Quadros were on hand to take portrait pictures at Dhs. 25 each and this year’s Dubai Twestival T-shirt was on sale for Dhs. 25. A live stream was going on all through the evening, following other Twestivals around the world thanks to the efforts of Paul Castle (@DaddyBird).

Njashanmal , Mita56 and Cnystedt
Lhjunkie, Yahya360 and Bhavishya
DevinaDivecha and Boozychef
Binmugahid and Figo29
MissGoogle and Bilalhouri
Autism was brought onto the spotlight on the release of the 1988 comedy-drama “Rain Man,” starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman in an Oscar-winning performance. The film dispelled a few misconceptions about autism and improved public awareness of the disorder. But, after hearing Devina, not enough.

Ahd, Monya and Ola
Dubai's youngest tweep Bambinofang with father Fangpyre
Autism is a long disorder affecting one in 91 children. There is no medical cure yet, but early intervention can limit the disorder developing, according to the Dubai Autism Center. Autism affects a child’s development and learning the signs and acting early can help family and child integrate into society. Signs to look out for and act early on, according to the center, are: difficulties in verbal and nonverbal communication; lack of social interaction; lack of eye contact; repetitive movements and behaviors; aloofness.

And some facts and figures on autism that PK Gulati spoke about:
  • One in every 110 children is being diagnosed with Autism and the incidence of Autism is still rising
  • Early detection and intervention can freeze the signs of Autism
  • The most effective intervention programs is based on one-to-one basis
  • Forty-seven students are enrolled at the Dubai Autism Center
  • For every two students there is one special educator
  • Each child has a team of eight professionals working with him or her
  • The cost of providing an individualized intervention program is Dhs.138,000 per student; parents pay 18% of that amount
  • There are more than 200 students on the center’s waiting list
  • The center started an afternoon program in October 2010 to help students on the waiting list
  • The center is operating at full capacity from its current premises
  • A new purpose-built center to house 200 students is under construction and Dhs. 32 million are needed for its completion
  • Individuals and companies can help complete the new premises by donating in cash or kind (material) through the center’s web site.
Again, a big thank you goes out to the tweeps who made Dubai Twestival happen -- the organizers and core volunteers -- @PKGulati @CarringtonMalin @Esperanca @MissGoogle @Njashanmal @AbhaMalpani @Mita56 @MaliZomg @Mnystedt @Cnystedt @RobSingleton and @Floatr.

A big round of applause to the main sponsor, du (@duTweets); the venue sponsor, InterCon DFC (@InterConDFC); support sponsors @Aramex, @MomentaryAwe, @Niftee, @JashanmalBooks, Flip by Cisco, @DuPlays, Nokia, Ford Middle East; and all the volunteers on the night.

Join us at Dubai Twestival by going through my pictures. The names may sound funny... they are Twitter handles!