In 2016, Special Olympics began work on a plan to address the needs of refugees with intellectual disabilities. Of an estimated 65.6 million displaced persons around the world, about a half-million have ID. In October, Special Olympics and Human Rights Watch briefed the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on this aspect of the refugee crisis. The goal is to increase social integration through sport for refugees and migrants with ID wherever possible.
Other partnership efforts target urgent regional issues. In Africa, malaria and HIV/AIDS are killers. Yet needed health care and counseling don’t always reach people with ID – or their families. With the help of ExxonMobil, Special Olympics Nigeria is pioneering a football program that combines the power of sports with health/nutrition awareness. This involves malaria and HIV/AIDS education, plus voluntary counseling, testing and services to people with ID, their families and communities.
This year, we renewed our partnership with the Peace Corps, which began in 2011. Since then, our collaboration has spread to 17 countries in the Americas, Africa and Asia Pacific. Special Olympics national Programs have worked together with Peace Corps volunteers to organize training and community forums, where people with and without ID learn and play together as a way of creating tolerance and understanding. They have worked especially well together to plan and hold sports competitions, including Special Olympics national and regional games in Mongolia, Botswana and the Philippines.
In 2016, Special Olympics and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also renewed a global partnership aimed at providing increased social protection, inclusive education and health services, family support and policy development in support of children and youth with ID.
Our powerful partnership with Lions Clubs International involves some of the more innovative and far-reaching projects in the history of Special Olympics. Through “Mission: Inclusion,” Lions Clubs volunteers and their global youth network of Leos take part in Unified Sports, serve as keynote speakers at Family Health Forums, and support early childhood development programs for Young Athletes. They are also helping empower athletes by inviting them to join local Lions Clubs in more than 100 countries. The Lions’ goal is to provide key global, multi-sector support for all people with ID, one of the most marginalized populations in the world.
When the United Nations celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities this year, Special Olympics celebrated, too. We share a continued commitment to inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of society, including sport, health, education and employment. On this occasion, Loretta Claiborne, who is Special Olympics International Board of Directors Vice Chair and Chief Inspiration Officer, represented athletes worldwide in her address to a UN audience.
Governments and leaders are recognizing the importance of including people with intellectual disabilities in every facet of society. In 2016, we saw this in breakthroughs around the world:
- For the first time, Egypt’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, celebrated the end of Ramadan with Special Olympics athletes and officials, along with top political and public figures. This high-level gathering was held at the presidential palace.
- The First Lady of Zambia, Esther Lungu, marked the International Day of Persons with Disabilities alongside Special Olympics athletes. This was part of a Unified Sports day co-hosted with UNICEF. The theme was “Inclusive Sports, Inclusive Communities, Empowerment for All.” Lungu said that the current discrimination against children with ID means they “have poor health outcomes, lower education achievements, less economic participation and higher rates of poverty. The world would be a better place if these children [with ID] can live out their dreams and contribute to society through their many talents.” The First Lady’s support sent a strong message in a country where traditional beliefs and stigma can lead to people with ID remaining “hidden” and excluded from community life.
- In 2016, the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education (OSEP) announced a $2.5 million increase in funding. OSEP’s support is focused on our successful Unified Champion Schools programs. The goal is reaching even more schools with programs that promote acceptance of differences and reduce bullying in schools.
- The government of Laos signed a Memorandum of Understanding between Special Olympics and the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare for capacity building, gender equity, and participation of people with disabilities in mainstream activities.
- The government of Rwanda signed a national partnership agreement with Special Olympics on a joint commitment to improve the lives of people with ID. The three-year partnership expands opportunities in sports, education and health. This also helps ensure equal access for persons with ID to social protections, services and economic opportunities.
- The U.S. Agency for International Development-supported “Play Unified” Serbia project has become a huge success, even in its first year. The project provides opportunities for young people with and without ID to work together on socially inclusive activities. After 12 months, youth leaders agreed that "Play Unified" is ideal way to break down barriers between people with and without ID.
- Cambodia’s government renewed its support of Special Olympics and sports development for people with ID. The government also hosted the 6th Mekong Five-a Side football tournament in Phnom Penh.
Community Outreach and Partnerships
Special Olympics’ ability to create and sustain more inclusive communities relies on engagement and partnerships with individuals, families, businesses, government and non-governmental organizations and civil society groups. In 2016:
- With help from the Red Cross, Special Olympics launched Singapore’s first inclusive club for youth with and without ID. In addition to Unified Sports activities, the club equips members with first aid skills by adapting the first aid curriculum for students with ID.
- World Scouts Interamerican and Special Olympics Latin America signed an agreement to provide skills development and other opportunities that bring together young people with and without ID. Partnership with the Scout Movement is a huge motivator for children, teens, and adult Scouts to take part in Special Olympics Unified Sports activities.
- Knights of Columbus supported a Unified Football Tournament in Rome, Italy, with teams from Italy, Lithuania, France, Hungary and Poland.
- The Trust for the Americas and Special Olympics Latin America signed an agreement to carry out joint actions on issues of accessibility, education, and Information and communication technologies.
- MetLife launched a Community Service Week involving nearly 2,000 Special Olympics across Europe-Eurasia. This partnership and funding made possible Young Athletes, Unified and Under-12 Unified events across the region during European Football Week. This effort included Great Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Turkey, Poland, Russia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece and Italy.
Since 2014, the innovative Special Olympics Leadership Academy has been building stronger, skilled leaders who can drive change. To date, the Leadership Academy has exceeded every target goal; this includes training more than 230 leaders from 85 countries.
In 2016, Leadership Academy workshops were held in Azerbaijan, Bharat, China, Mexico and the USA.
Their vision and inspiration are taking the Special Olympics movement into the future – everyday, everywhere!
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