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Strengthening Special Olympics Leaders in Africa

Special Olympics athletes and leaders in 21 nations are changing the lives of people with intellectual disabilities in Africa. The annual meeting for Program and athlete leaders in Special Olympics Africa was a time to celebrate successes that have impact beyond the playing field and to plan strategies to meet ongoing challenges.

Strong Growth in Coaches and Volunteers

Aquatics is one of the many growing sports Special Olympics offers in Africa. This photo was taken by a Special Olympics athlete in South Africa, Jimmy Masina, who also took part in the leadership conference. Masina is a staff member of Special Olympics Africa.

One measure of success announced at the meeting in South Africa is growth. Over 165,000 people of all ages with intellectual disabilities take part in Special Olympics in Africa, an increase of 45 percent in just three years. The number of volunteer coaches increased 73 percent in the same time, now totalling more than 15,500.

Even more spectacular, the number of people who are involved with the Unified Sports program more than tripled. Unified Sports combines people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same teams. As of 2013, close to 5,770 Unified partners are involved in Africa. And sports competitions throughout Africa have doubled to more than 6,500. That’s almost 20 competitions a day. 

Grants That Fund Success

Special Olympics athlete Theo Tebele received recognition for his role in the athlete input council from Dr John Dow Jr, President and Managing Director of the Special Olympics Africa Region.

The annual meeting of Special Olympics leaders in Africa was made possible by support from the A Very Special Christmas Record Trust. Worldwide sales of Christmas-music albums over the last 26 years has raised more than $100 million, and grants provide funding for Special Olympics activities in Africa and other regions. Many of the successes celebrated at the Africa Region Leaders Conference were made possible by funding from the Christmas Record Trust.

Achievements Across the Board

Khody Kone, a Special Olympics athlete from Senegal, played basketball with superstars from the NBA and WNBA during the NBA All Star weekend in New Orleans, USA

The last year has been marked by other major achievements. A regional advisory council made up of Special Olympics athletes was set up. Two countries, Ghana and Zimbabwe, established new Special Olympics programs, and two more, Liberia and Ethiopia, are being organized. Professional basketball players and coaches connected with NBA Africa held a skills clinic in South Africa. Special Olympics athletes from Africa took part in the NBA All Star Weekend and the Clinton Global Initiative in the United States.

Africa-wide Forum on Disability

Her Excellency President Joyce Banda of the Republic of Malawi (center) announced the African Leadership Alliance on Intellectual Disabilities to secure human rights and social services for people with intellectual disabilities, one of the most marginalized and overlooked groups on the planet.

One of the most important successes of the last year took place in Malawi, where President Joyce Banda held a meeting of leaders across Africa to discuss ways to improve the lives of all people with disabilities in Africa. Special Olympics partnered with Malawi to present the conference. One of the major outcomes of the forum was the formation of an African Leaders Alliance on Intellectual Disability. This is a new alliance that will include African governments, development organizations, and leading disability-focused entities, and will be dedicated to elevating the rights and protections of those with intellectual disabilities in Africa as part of the development agenda. In support of this ideal, and the creation of the alliance, President Banda issued The Lilongwe Declaration at the forum.

Leaders Dedicated to Special Olympics

Conference attendees were the heads of Special Olympics offices in their countries and several outstanding Special Olympics athlete leaders.

The meeting of Program and athlete leaders took place in March just outside Johannesburg, South Africa. These leaders gather each year to develop the strategic plan for Special Olympics in the Africa region. Special Olympics athlete leaders provide the lead for a week of discussions on how to better address the needs of people with an intellectual disability in Africa. This annual leadership meeting allows new and experienced leadership from around the continent to share challenges, ideas and best practices. 

Support from All Sides

Special Olympics athlete Elvira Goagoses of Namibia was one of several athletes with intellectual disabilities who took part in the conference.

Special Olympics Africa staff and invited guest speakers were on hand to provide training about Special Olympics and critical areas of support for the program and athlete leaders. This year the delegation was welcomed by Dr Mathews Phosa, a very successful businessman in South Africa and the Chairperson of Special Olympics South Africa, Dr John Dow Jr, President and Managing Director of the Special Olympics Africa region, and Mr Thabo Mabuwa, Special Olympics athlete and staff member.