What were you doing when you were fourteen? Most of us were holed up in our rooms, listening to angst music and complaining about how unfair our parents were in our diaries. Hamad Al-Barrak, however, is an exception to that rule, and spends his free time building something great for a community of individuals who face endless stigmas in today’s society. How does he do it? Golf.
Inspired by a school project, the non-profit SWING club specializes in teaching children ages 6-12 years old with exceptionalities such as autism and Down’s Syndrome the togetherness of community via playing golf as an outlet. Hamad states that he never thought he would start a non-profit, let alone one focused on special needs. However, when his Honors English teacher Mr. Alzaid assigned a large project to be conducted throughout the entire school year, and meant to occupy 20% of the student’s time, the answer of “what to do” came to Hamad through interest and compassion. “It took me about 2 weeks to finally decide on starting SWING, because I knew that whatever I did, I wanted to enjoy it, and also wanted it to have a good cause.” And being part of Kuwait’s national golf team made choosing his passion as a basis to start from an easy choice.
Through research, Hamad learned that golf was also an ideal activity for those with exceptionalities. “Many people aren’t aware of the benefits of golfing for autism, as it is more common to engage [the kids] in swimming and horseback riding.” But Hamad’s discovery opened up a whole new possibility for Kuwait’s autistic community. “Golf happens to be one of the best sports for them, simply for its individual and non-competitive nature. It’s not stressful for the kids because they don’t need to read social cues from teammates, and the game’s relaxed pace is suited for their needs.”
SWING can serve as a catalyst to offer more sports or activities available towards children with special needs. Coupled with its main objective, motivating children with exceptionalities to go out and enjoy the fresh air while having fun, SWING increases the happiness levels and positive behaviors brought on by physical exercise and socializing. Parents noticed behavioral changes with their children’s improving sociability, and have also mentioned that the children were happier in the days leading up to SWING meets, which in turn would positively affect everyone around them. “It’s a ripple effect that leaves behind happy kids, happy parents, and also very happy and content volunteers who feel they made a difference in that hour.”
But like anything else that’s making a positive change, serious efforts are needed to sustain it. In addition to the obvious outlier in playing outdoors year-round, being Kuwait’s weather, having an apt number of volunteers to run operations has proven difficult. “We enjoy having a 2:1 volunteer to student ratio, but on some days its 1:1.” However, they’re always accepting more volunteers to help out! Their only requirements? “Be committed, and be great around children. If that’s you, we will gladly have you join the SWING family.”
Despite any concerns, Hamad has high hopes for SWING, and is eternally grateful for everybody involved in its process. From the generosity of Sahara Golf Club’s opening up its grounds to the initiative, to having full support of head coach Edward who created the training program and took it upon himself to coach along side co-coaches Cameron and Xu and all the volunteers. Hamad believes that SWING could turn into something even greater than what it already is. “Everyone invested immense time and effort into SWING and without their determination and dedication I don’t think this program would have been possible. When they say ‘it takes a village’, well, it surely does!”
With all this support, Hamad hopes to continue SWING and expand the amount of students and volunteers over the following years. “It would be a great loss if we don’t. At the end of it all, if our young golfers are excited and happy to golf, learn and advance, make new friends and improve their social skills, then we have definitely accomplished something very special and worth being proud of.”
SWING can be found at the Sahara Golf Resort, off of 6th Ring Road. Follow SWING on Instagram: @swingkuwait. Interested in becoming a part of the SWING family? Email them at [email protected] to volunteer or to sign up your child.