2013 Special Olympics Global Development Summit – The Youth Voice

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Clement Coulston and Rachel Ward, Global Youth Facilitators for the 2013 Special Olympics Global Youth Activation Summit participated in the inaugural Global Development Summit, which gathered 300 world leaders from areas of government, business, education, economic and social development, media … Continue reading

Schools should be Safe

230x300_SamHThe following blog post is from Samantha Huffman and was written in response to a recent article about a special needs student who was bound with duct tape during school.

Samantha is a former National Youth Activation Committee member and current senior, studying Elementary Education at Hanover College.  

I recently went to a conference where a young man with cerebral palsy kept bringing up how we needed to focus on students with disabilities being tied down to chairs or restrained and/or harmed in some other way by educators.  I kept thinking to myself how this wasn’t important because this would never be allowed to happen in a school in today’s society.  I’m a senior Elementary Education major and never once in my four years of classes have we addressed the idea of restraining students because that’s just plain wrong, isn’t it?  Well, apparently I was living in some kind of dream world and this young man at the conference was living in the real world.

Today I read one of the most terrifying and saddening stories.  In Indianapolis, my hometown nonetheless, an 8-year old girl with Down syndrome came home on the bus with industrial duct tape wrapped around her shoes and socks, which went all the way to the top of her ankles.  Shaylyn, the young girl, wasn’t even able to walk off the bus by herself because it hurt too much.  After her mom carried her daughter off the bus, she immediately took her back to the school where she received help to remove the duct tape.  The process took 30 minutes and left Shaylyn with bruises all over her ankles.

School is supposed to be a place where all children go to receive an education and this education is expected to be in a safe environment.  When this safe environment is jeopardized, the entire education system begins to crumble.

How is a student supposed to reach their full learning potential when they have to worry about the possibility of being harmed by their teacher?  In Shaylyn’s case, it was something as simple as not wanting to wear shoes that caused her to be harmed.  This was doing nothing to interfere with her education, yet one of her teachers decided to not only take away her time of learning to focus on her shoes, but she also chose to restrain her.

This wasn’t just a one-time case.  Currently there are 20 states that have no school policy against restraining students.  That means, that at any given moment of the school day, those students have the possibility of being physically restrained by their teachers and there’s nothing that can be done because it isn’t against policy.  How can this be possible in today’s world?  Teachers can get fired for hitting a child, but it’s perfectly fine for them to tape a student’s shoes to their feet or tie a student to a chair?  To me, these seem equivalently harmful to students, both physically and emotionally, as being hit.

We have come so far with bullying campaigns, disability awareness, etc.  But how can we expect students to view those with disabilities as equals when there are teachers out there who still dehumanize their students with disabilities?  For every student we reach with our awareness, there is a student out there who is turned away from accepting those with disabilities as equals because they see their teacher- their role model- disrespecting and dehumanizing one.

In what world is it okay to physically restrain someone because they aren’t doing what you want them to do?  It is not okay.  These policies need to be created in order to protect all students, especially those with disabilities.  And these teachers that think it is okay need to find a new profession.  Teachers are supposed to protect their students, build their self-esteem, and show them that they matter as a person. How is a teacher doing any of these things when they physically restrain their students?  The answer is they’re not.  All they are doing is showing their students that they have no power over what happens to them.  All they are doing is showing them that they are less than human because their free will- their ability to move freely as they wish- can be taken away for something as simple as not wanting to wear shoes.

Luckily, most teachers aren’t like this.  Most teachers are extremely successful in protecting their students, building their self-esteem, and showing them that they matter as people.  They have the appropriate skills and training to manage the many behavior challenges they will experience in their classrooms.  Unfortunately, many teachers are not given adequate training, instruction, and tools that would make this kind of act of desperation against a child an aberration.

Professional development and appropriate pre-service education for teachers is critical to ensure that we don’t fail our children.

Farewell to the GYAS

The day is finally upon us – we have to bid farewell to all of our amazing youth leaders and chaperones and officially close the 2013 Special Olympics Global Youth Activation Summit.

The past 10 days have been energetic, thought provoking, inspiring and amazing. These passionate youth leaders from around the world are primed to make positive change in their communities and are ready to promote acceptance, respect and dignity for all people.

As we close out the 2013 GYAS, I wanted to leave you with a few words from Sashi Montaña and Brina Maxino of the Philippines. These dynamic and effervescent young women were elected by their peers to serve as the co-chairs for the 2013 – 2015 GYAS. In this role, they’ll help guide their fellow youth leaders in activating Special Olympics around the world and help to plan for the 2015 GYAS in Los Angles, California.

“My name is Sashi Montaña, youth partner for the Global Youth Activation Summit (GYAS), and I am writing this together with Brina Maxino, Special Olympics athlete, and we are from the Philippines.

We are thrilled and very honored to be elected as the co-chairs for the next GYAS in Los Angeles, World Summer Games 2015! We are beyond grateful for this opportunity to be part of this wonderful movement. We will continue to strive to do our best always.

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During the GYAS, we have learned many valuable and practical things and we have made awesome new friends from different delegations around the world who share the same mission and vision. We have created such beautiful memories together that we will never forget! It would be an understatement to say that it has been such an AMAZING summit!
We have definitely caught on the fire of Special Olympics and we want to pass it on to others as it was passed on to us. We want to lead and activate other youth like us to be agents of change.

Brina and I may not be as experienced and skilled as others may be because of their long involvement with Special Olympics, but we learned that what matters most is our hearts. We have the hearts to change the world. We believe that a difference can be made in this world if we have the love and the courage to help, be selfless, and do all that we can do. We will achieve our responsibilities with positive, motivated and changed hearts.

Many believe in us, we believe in ourselves and we believe in each other.”

Their spirit, passion and dedication is a true representation of the power and determination of our GYAS youth leaders.

Good luck to all as you head home to change the world!

Unified Sports at World Games

Yesterday, five youth leaders from the Global Youth Activation Summit had the opportunity to participate in the Floor Hockey Unified Sports Experience. The event was a great chance for our youth leaders to show off their sports skills and have fun with some amazing Special Olympics supporters!! Unified Sports Experience events pair Special Olympics athletes with partners, celebrities and supporters in an exhibition match that helps promote the importance of Unified Sports within Special Olympics.

Abraham Moreno and Daniel Giordani of Special Olympics Southern California were two of the lucky young people selected to play in the game. 

“My experience playing in the Unified Sports Floor Hockey Game was incredible. I am glad to be selected to play in that game at the world’s grand stage at the World Winter Games. I totally love to play floor hockey, I love it very much and I wish I could play it every single day. I was glad to play floor hockey again for the first time in two months. It was a great feeling playing it again.

The officials gave us uniforms to wear and there were four teams. I was on the blue team. We played two games. I scored two goals in the first game. We had a big lead in the first half of the game, then the other team caught up to tie the score 6-6. In the last minute, my team was able to break the tie and win the game. In the second game, it was for the championship, winner against winter. There were celebrities that played and they were pretty tall. We won the game by five and got first place.

I was glad that I was able to play in this game and I had a great time.”

– Abraham Moreno, athlete

Abraham Moreno faces off against former NBA star Sam Perkins in the Floor Hockey Unified Sports Experience

Abraham Moreno faces off against former NBA star Sam Perkins in the Floor Hockey Unified Sports Experience

“My Unified Sports Experience was a very enjoyable one. I played floor hockey. Although we lost both games, I bonded with all of my teammates and we had a blast! I didn’t realize how much fun floor hockey could be. It was such an amazing experience meeting so many people of different races, genders and abilities. While participants in Unified Sports, all of our difference seemed to be non-existent and we were just out there having a good time and enjoying each other’s company.

Unified Sports really bring out the true meaning of Special Olympics: love, acceptance and tolerance.

It was amazing.”

– Daniel Giordani, partner

Together We Can

Rahma Aly is a Special Olympics athlete from Cairo, Egypt. Along with her partner Farah Ghaffar, Rahma is representing Special Olympics Egypt at the 2013 Special Olympics Global Youth Activation Summit. Below is a speech Rahma developed and presented to her fellow Youth Activation Summit members.

IMG_0148I was honored to represent Special Olympics Egypt (the land of pharos) and to be chosen to attend the Global Youth Summit. I came here to pass a message of awareness, respect and friendship to all of you and to people who still believe that we are different.

Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Rahma. I am 16 years old and I have Down syndrome. I think we all know the scientific meaning of the word, it has been explained to us by people around us, maybe our doctors, our families or others who care. I am here with you now full of pride of who I am and everything I have done until now.

I truly think that the first step was my family who were brave enough to face the problem, and when you face a problem you must be true and frank to yourself.

Of course, you all want to know me. I am Rahma and I study at Alsun School for tourism and hotels year 2. I enjoy my study as it prepares me for my future work and career.

Also, I think it is very important to practice any kind of sport, I have chosen swimming to be my favorite. I practice it since I was four years old and I got my first medal at the age of 13.

I travelled to lots of different place – Syria, Lebanon and succeeded to get 4 medals – 2 gold, 1 silver and another bronze.

I am talking also to people who still believe we are different. We are not, we need only a chance and if we are given this opportunity, we will succeed.

Love, understanding, believing and willing to accept others, no matter how different they are is my message. Don’t consider us different, we are part of this society, we can help, participate and succeed.

Finally, I would like to thank all of you for being here. All who helped by advice or support, let us all repeat it strongly and clearly to the whole universe – love is the answer to all the problems of the world. Love fills us with courage, to face, to struggle, to be a part of the globe.

We are still and shall continue fighting to gain our rights.

We are here and together we can.

We are here and together we can.

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