Saudi woman stands out for her pediatric physiotherapy program

Ahlam Cluntun and her superheroes


Saudi Gazette

SAUDI women have proved their capabilities in different fields. They started to positively impact society with their remarkably high productivity and proficiency. This was not just limited to such fields as medicine, technology and research. Saudi women have become epitomes of humanity by reaching out to children with various physical disabilities and helping to protect their dignity.

Saudi Gazette met with a young Saudi lady who made a difference by developing physiotherapy programs for children with physical disabilities. After gaining eight years of experience working in public hospitals as a pediatric physical therapist, Ahlam Cluntun founded Standout, a center for pediatric physiotherapy. The center is considered the first of its kind in terms of employing an all-Saudi female team.

"Children with physical disabilities are facing real challenges in life. I do not think society should feel sorry for a child with disability. Instead, we can encourage them to learn and become independent. I have a mission for all children with physical disabilities in my society," said Ahlam.

Ahlam has developed a physiotherapy program, which she calls "Superheroes". Through the program, Ahlam makes the children play the roles of superheroes who save their families by taking up different jobs and tasks, like that of doctors, nurses, policemen, firefighters and so on.

"It significantly enhances their self-confidence," she claimed.

The concept Ahlam has worked on was a program to achieve set goals through play and fun.

"Unfortunately, our centers of pediatric physiotherapy follow very traditional and boring techniques that drive children away and make their families lose hope. I decided to gradually change this. These children must exercise to loosen their muscles by playing and having fun under specialist supervision, instead of simply following instructions. We at Standout are fighting the traditional methods of exercising. Instead of giving an instruction to raise the leg, we tell the kids to kick a ball. The goal is same but with better results. We achieve this through making children happy, which is among their basic rights," she said.

Ahlam said her mission was not just for children with disabilities but for their families as well. "We invite all mothers to attend monthly sessions where we let them share their experiences. It is an idea implemented in many other parts of the world but it is new to our society," she said.

"Our strategy is to focus on the child from all perspectives: family, physical fitness and psychological well being. Happy children can produce better results than their unhappy counterparts. We also take their age into consideration. We have open areas that are colored. We put on cheerful scrubs. We decorated a wall, which was full of pictures of people with disabilities winning international prizes. We wrote down their stories to inspire the children and let them believe they too can change the world if they tried," Ahlam said while explaining her modus operandi.

After four months of establishing the center, Ahlam realized that some families could not afford the sessions. She intuitively thought of a new way of letting children from poor families continue their physiotherapy sessions.

"Our society is full of good-doers. I thought why not reinforce social solidarity for the cause. I launched a campaign targeting all members of society who can afford to spare something. I tried to make the way they help as untraditional as possible," said Ahlam.

Ahlam printed coupons of SR300 and SR150 for various pysiotherapy sessions: the first for consultation and the other for follow-up visits. She encouraged capable people to buy these coupons to support the children. "We kept in touch with everyone who purchased the coupons and updated them by sending photos and vides of children who benefited from the money he or she had contributed," said Ahlam.

"In our center, we call it a gift, and not aid, to protect the children's dignity. People get very much interactive with this initiative. They are so happy to see videos of children progressing because they have paid for their physiotherapy sessions," Ahlam concluded.