Sabah First to Have Special Olympics athletes in Raleigh Expedition

Note: The article first appeared in the Borneo Post on 18 March. Special Olympics expresses its appreciation to Amy Dangin for her permission to reproduce the story here.

Andrew (left), Man Man (right), and Raleigh Borneo volunteers posing for pictures at the end of their expedition.

KOTA KINABALU: The past four weeks might have been extra challenging for 34-year-old Andrew Yong and Tan Siew Man, 24, both Sabah’s very own Special Olympics athletes.
But more than that, it had proven to the world that people with intellectual disabilities (ID) too are able to contribute back to the society, as showed through their participation in the four-week expedition with Raleigh Borneo, repairing and upgrading two kindergartens in Kg Kodong, rural Pitas.
The Unified Community Service (UCS) is the first ever collaboration between Special Olympics International and Raleigh International, where Special Olympics athletes are given the opportunity to join the challenging and life-changing Raleigh expedition with other ‘venturers’ from around the globe.
UCS is one of the various projects under the bigger Healthy Communities programme, which Special Olympics Sabah was selected to represent Malaysia as one of the eight countries and six American states out of 220 Special Olympics programs worldwide, aiming to develop and create sustainability for healthcare services in local communities for people with ID.

Andrew taking a moment to pose for the camera while working on a hammering task assigned to him.

Special Olympics Malaysia (Sabah) spokesperson, Sharon David, disclosed that the Healthy Communities Project goal is to reduce these disparities in health status and increase access to community health resources for Special Olympics athletes and others with ID.

“Throughout the world, people with ID are literally a forgotten population creating gross disparities in terms of their health status and basic protections. Thus, people with ID have greater risk on health issues not because of their disabilities but because of their struggle to have their illness investigated, properly and correctly diagnosed and treated to the same extent as other people.

“Through the participation of our two athletes (Andrew Yong and Tan Siaw Man), we hope to raise awareness of the global community towards inclusion and acceptance which then ultimately improve the health access and health needs of people with intellectual disabilities.

“This will be a proud event for us in Special Olympics and being Sabahans, we are even more proud to be the first (state) to have our Special Olympics athletes joining a Raleigh expedition,” said Sharon.

Andrew (fourth right), Man Man (third left), Rita (second left), and the other venturers after a hard day’s work.

As Raleigh International runs volunteering programs on project sites in Borneo (Malaysia), Tanzania, Costa Rica & Nicaragua and India with young adult volunteers coming from all over the globe, it is hoped that Special Olympics movement will be introduced not only to the local community, penetrating to the most remote areas in Sabah but also on the global scale through the participating ‘venturers’ from all over the world.

In the expedition, Andrew and Tan – or fondly known as Man Man – together with 16 other venturers from around the globe, make up the Alpha 1 group, and were placed under the care and guardian of Rita Parabak-Dangin, who had been a volunteer with the Special Olympics Sabah since 2002, during the three-week expedition.

For Andrew, the hardest part of the expedition was having to spend time away from his mother, whom he normally spends the most time with apart from his work at the Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort. But other than that, getting to work with young adults of multinational backgrounds helping the local community of Kg Kodong to repair and upgrade their kindergarten into fully functional community learning centres, uplifted his spirits which he described as the opportunity of a lifetime.

(From left to right) Andrew, his mother, Maria, and Special Olympics volunteer, Rita, being interviewed upon returning from the expedition.

Meanwhile, Andrew’s mother, Datin Maria Jose Muniozguren, 60, admitted that she initially had her concerns of letting Andrew join the expedition.

“As a mother, I was worried of a lot of things. For one thing, it was the first time I had to let him go on a trip so long without any relatives around. Andrew had travelled to a lot of places including my home country, Spain, and to other parts of Europe, but always with relatives.

“And the only time he had been away without relatives was to join the Mount Kinabalu Challenge with the Special Olympics team but that was only about four days max.

“I worried about how he would cope with the hard work that he would have to do, about the stability of his emotions whether or not he’s going to be able to control it, and so on. I worried about leeches (laughs), and about him going into waters because he cannot swim,” said Maria.

“But in the end I’m safely back home,” retorted Andrew with a smile for his mother, to which she gave back a consoled mother’s smile, as both thanked Rita for her guidance and caretaking throughout the expedition.

“Well that’s Andrew. He’s always willing to learn, experience new things, go places, and meet people. He’s always open to possibilities and I’m thankful for both Special Olympics and Raleigh Borneo for giving him this opportunity. It’s given him a good experience,” added Maria.

Sabah Port Sdn Bhd has made generous sponsorship to Special Olympics Sabah athletes and their escorts in terms of attire (T- shirts, working shoes, gears, etc) as well as transportation cost for Man Man and mother from Sandakan to Kota Kinabalu return flight tickets.

The team returned to the Raleigh Borneo’s base camp at Kiulu on March 11, 2014, where a homecoming event was organised to welcome the venturers back, which culminated with a presentation of an appreciation token from Special Olympics Sabah chairman, Datuk Safari Manan to Raleigh Borneo Country Programme Manager, Phili Newell.