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El-Araby: How Special Olympics turned my life around

The youngest of  seven siblings, El-Araby Houfeya had realized at an early age that he was different. He was the only boy in a house full of girls, and was much slower to grasp things and reach milestones than his sisters before him. It was first attributed to the legend 'boys are always slower than girls' but as the years went by slowly and painfully the truth dawned on him and his family. He was different. He had intellectual disability.

He Felt Useless

El-Araby Houfeya's journey started with Special Olympics in 1992.

 "Most of the time growing up – I was ignored" says El-Araby.

"My family didn’t make fun of me or anything but everybody always knew that I couldn’t do anything right. Even I….I also knew that I couldn’t do anything right".

Resigned to his fate of "useless" El-Araby learnt how to read and write and spent his days "playing soccer with others in the neighborhood and just hanging out." Then came the day that changed everything.

He participated in a local football competition. Having had no proper training, nevertheless El-Araby was quite exceptional. So much that after the game he was fortunate enough to gain an audience with HRH Princess Lala Amina.

"She was very gracious. She told me about Special Olympics Morocco . I joined and now ….I don’t want to remember how it was before," he says with great emotion.

"I Play Sports Very Well"

HRH Lala Amina of Morocco greets Special Olympics athletes at an event in Morocco.

"I rode horses and played soccer in Special Olympics. I have traveled to many many countries. Ireland, Spain, USA…I met so many people and I made so many friends…all with Special Olympics," he recalls.

"I became a champion. I see her Royal Highness Princess Lala Amina a lot. My sisters don’t. And one day I thought – I play sports very well, nobody thought I could. Perhaps then, there are other things I could do".

Tentatively trying out on a few jobs, El-Araby found employment as a security man. His diligence, dedication and his honest persona paid off. He was able to support himself and even entertained thoughts of starting his own family.

"I Will Never Leave Special Olympics"

El-Araby Houfeya's journey started with Special Olympics in 1992. Today he is a successful 37-year-old married man and the proud father of has daughter, Hamza. And even though he is now a partner in the security firm he works for, he stills find time for Special Olympics.

He frequently trains and attends any seminars given – the most recent being "Athletes as Volunteers" training seminar. When last seen Araby was a volunteer in the S.O. Morocco National Games.

"I will never leave Special Olympics," he vows. "Special Olympics has given me all what I have now and because of that I will always stay involved!"