Young People Change the World

Last July, 67 young people with and without intellectual disabilities from around the world gathered in Athens, Greece for the 2011 Global Youth Activation Summit (GYAS) as part of the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games. During the GYAS, our amazing youth leaders participated in discussions, shared resources and developed strategies to activate young people in their home countries to create communities of respect and social change.

Well, I’m excited to share that over the last eight months, our GYAS youth leaders were hard at work implementing projects and fostering the ‘Dignity Revolution’ in their home countries.

As a result of their collective efforts:

  •   1,016            Educators joined the movement
  •   338               Schools became involved
  •   4,601            Special Olympics athletes participated in activities
  •   3,739            Youth volunteers supported local events
  •   97                 Unified sports teams were formed/participated in events
  •   99                 Youth Activation events were conducted

In addition to their amazing effort as a group of global youth leaders, I wanted to highlight some of the truly impressive goals, projects and accomplishments that took place this year. Read about their projects and reflections on the past eight months:

Great Britain:
From George Holt and Keven Shard:
“Locally, the impact of the project has been better than expected, with 13 different groups and 4 different schools becoming involved – hosting presentations, try days and sports festivals. The Unified Football festival part of project had 14 teams attend, and as a result one group, with up to 4 football teams, has now signed up as a new Special Olympics group and is keen to become more involved with other unified sports.

Two schools want to start after-school Unified Sports sessions with links between local mainstream and special education schools. One of these schools wants to register some pupils with the local Special Olympics group and work Special Olympics programmes into their school Physical Education lessons, so that pupils can enter competitions, and also attend Unified Sport sessions at the local Special Olympics.”

Read more about youth leaders Keven and George who are working for change in Great Britain.

Colorado, USA:
From Sarah and Ben Barnhart:
“Very few high school youth were involved in Project Unify in my school and community, yet many had the leadership qualities to make a difference for those with intellectual disabilities. Our project was to enhance the Cherry Creek High School L.E.G.O.S. Club and grow support for the activities of Special Olympics and Project Unify. Although the target was to increase participation from 23 to 50 individuals, over 100 new students signed up with support for the club with 54 joining as active, working members who attend bi-weekly meetings. In addition, students were recruited from two additional schools to take part in the events.

Last year, the fall season consisted of 15 athletes practicing with Unified Partners from the high school. This year, the season exploded to include 40 athletes and over 15 partners. It also brought in the new Unified and Varsity Cheer team from the high school, adding an additional seven athletes and 10 partners at the finale game, along with 6 firefighters from the local community to play unified basketball with the athletes.”

From Areen Abusweilem and Raya Al Halaby:
“We found that many students, teachers and parents are unaware of Special Olympics or the abilities of our athletes, they used to have a wrong vision of people with intellectual disabilities and thought that they were people whom you should feel sorry for or be afraid of, so we mainly thought that we have to change this and realize how great our athletes are.

Mainly our program revolves around changing the attitude of students by students, who will also change their teachers and parents, so we founded Special Olympics supporting student club named “Flame of Unity” in 3 schools where the club composes of 1 teacher and 10 students in each school. These students come up with activities and ideas to achieve our targets and change their friends and schoolmates. Also our club emphasizes playing on unified teams.”

Listen to a great song created by the Special Olympics Jordan Team:

From Alvaro Delacruz and Marina Cabrera:
“Our project will be implemented in three middle schools for children with and without disability ages 12 to 17 years of age. Two will be held at the Capital (Asuncion) and the last event to be held at the Central region subprogram. We will engage youth through Unified Sports and recreational activities aimed at recruiting new youth into Special Olympics. We will involve youth as volunteers acting as referees, and organizing sports areas. In the area of recreation, youth will be involved as promoters of events such as watching movies at their school, holding school parties that involve the community and other youth.

Through our project, we will: execute Unified Sports tournaments in 3 different schools; promote leadership by holding workshops; promote volunteering by meeting with youth in schools; create a database containing all youth to provide needed follow-up; encourage teachers to actively participate in this initiative by awarding the classroom that has achieved the most success in the allotted time frame. We believe that the youth activation activities are an important awareness campaign where we can visualize youth impact in joint activities with other youth of a similar age with an intellectual disability.”

South Africa:
From Seani Mulamu and Mutshidzi Mufamadi:
“For our project, the main target was to reach mainstream youth and to engage them in activities with Special Olympics athletes, but where possible, have the youth involved in every aspect of the event including the organizing. Special Olympics South Africa was able to reach 220 new Unified partners, create awareness amongst over 4,000 learners, involve 119 new teachers and recruit 140 new Special Olympics athletes.

We took a fairly stepped approach in that Special Olympics was first introduced and this was followed up a by a proposed Unified sports day. Once this proposal was accepted, as many learners as possible were orientated on Special Olympics and then partners took part in a Unified sports day. In all cases, either the event itself or a gathering post the event was used to explain more about Special Olympics, our athletes, our founder and the importance of tolerance, acceptance and respect. In this way, teachers that were involved in the project could see the benefit to the mainstream learners and how Special Olympics South Africa is helping them to teach their scholars a component of the compulsory subject called Life Orientation.”

From Filip Paunovic and Luka Kurcubic:
“On the day 25th of November, we held two fantastic and inspiring events in the city of Krusevac.  It all started in the local special school in the morning, when 100 young students with and without ID showed up with their teachers. The first event was a seminar where we shared our experiences as Youth Leaders. Reactions from the Youth were incredible, but also, the reactions from their teachers. The moment we finished with our story, hands were rising up and numerous questions were asked, showing a great interest from the Youth in what was presented to them, asking how they can get involved further. After a short break, we took the role of coaches and referees. Everyone took part in mixed Unified Sports teams, which proved the overall idea that we can all engage together, with no differences. It was amazing to see all those young people eagerly waiting for their friends to finish their games so that they can try it themselves. Overall both events ended with great success, with an outcome of all the youth wanting to continue and get involved in the activities. But not only the youth, teachers were more than interested also, approaching us with questions and ideas on how we can make new events to strengthen the idea of cooperation.”

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About Rebecca

Manager of Youth Leadership for Special Olympics Project UNIFY. I hope to share with you lots of great stories about our youth leaders, school programs and other amazing things we're doing here at Special Olympics.

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