DOWN syndrome doesn’t keep this young man from going UP in life

By Surbhi Bhatia

When Safeer Jivraj was born his prognosis was grim. He was born with down syndrome.

“My wife and I were told right after his birth by a pediatrician that he would not amount to anything. He would not be social. He would not get into any career, or maximum he would basket weave,” said Ashiff Jivraj, Safeer’s father. “The statement was a slap on our face. We decided to do our best to bring Safeer into normal life.”

Now after 19 years of Safeer’s birth, both the parents were sitting inside The Voice office smiling and feeling proud of their son’s achievements. They did not know where to start. Safeer has proved the doctors wrong by being extremely social and friendly. He countered his physical limitations and instead of basket weaving, he has become a basket ball coach. He has earned several titles and awards for helping others.

Recently he was awarded the 2013 Duke of Edinburgh’s Award – BC and Yukon Division. Ironically physical fitness is one of the criteria to get the award. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award is given for personal development and community involvement for young people. Participants complete the award by achieving personally established goals, in the areas of community service, skill development, physical recreation, and adventurous journey.

Safeer’s life story is an inspiring and touching story for those who are born with physical disabilities. His parents are an example of people who believe in themselves and have faith in their kids.

“We discovered about Safeer’s down syndrome the moment he was born. However we accepted him as he was and took him home,” said Nargis Jivraj , Safeer’s mother.

Down syndrome is a genetic disorder. It is typically associated with a delay in cognitive ability and physical growth, and a particular set of facial characteristics.

But the road was not easy for his parents. “People and situations made it harder. He had to go through an open heart surgery when he was only 10 months old. Unfortunately and fortunately we were told right after his birth by a pediatrician that he would not amount to anything. This challenged us to prove the naysayers wrong. We wanted to make sure Safeer grew up as normal as possible despite his deep physical, mental and emotional handicaps,” she said.

They found every way to help him overcome his disabilities. “The first step was to give him exposure to other kids leading a normal life. We took him out of the public school where all the kids with disabilities are put in class regardless of their age and abilities. We started sending him into a private school. With others watching and admiring our commitment they helped with their positive attitudes towards Safeer development and he responded beautifully. Safeer began to walk at the age of 5. His speech developed shortly after which brought down his emotional outbursts that were prevalent when he could not communicate properly. The children around him in the school helped him further with his speech and social interactions. These feedbacks and our encouragements for him to participate in everything propelled Safeer to a real success by his early teens,” she said.

Safeer graduated from Mediated Learning Academy. He received great help from some social workers (before age 18), teachers, therapists, family, friends and school mates.

He wanted to do everything his brother Fareem did. He found a passion for street hockey, watching and meeting the Vancouver Canuck players, other sports, video games, acting, music, dancing. He even performed during the closing ceremony of 2010 Winter Olympics.

So what keeps him going? “He never lets his down syndrome condition overpower him,” said Nargis.

“Now don’t say that,” Safeer cut his mother during the conversation. He gets angry when his parents mention his disability. “I am as capable as any other person. There is nothing called down syndrome or disability. When you decide what you want to do, you can achieve anything.”

Now Safeer is a well known face in his Ismaili community. He has more than thousand friends on his Facebook. He also makes friends everywhere he goes. An extremely emotional Safeer said that he loves people and loves to help them. “When I see someone with physical disability I want to talk to him and tell him how to think positive and counter the disability,” he said.

It is a remarkable achievement for Safeer who could not walk or speak, socialize or participate in anything to have overcome all of these disabilities. It was his own determination to showcase to the world what he could achieve. Safeer received the Self-advocate Award for 2011 Canadian Down Syndrome Society.

He is a true inspiration of hope for all those who have children born with disabilities and for those that have disabilities that they can overcome their handicaps over time. He has re-educated many that harboured biases or ignorance about children with special needs.

Safeer is enthusiastically hoping to have a bright future. While attending Douglas College – using public transit independently – he is determined to find a job where he can help coach young children fulfil their athletic dreams in a gym setting. He currently has a job at Surrey Parks and Rec. in a children’s basketball program. His wish one day is to work with the Vancouver Canucks handing out player sticks as they enter Rogers Arena, and to become an actor/dancer for the movies and television.