Jasmine is an athlete leader from Pakistan. She is a Board Member for Special Olympics Pakistan and Co-Chair of the Athlete Input Council for Special Olympics Asia Pacific. She will compete in swimming at the Abu Dhabi 2019 World Games.
My name is Jasmine Sharif, and I am an active member of Special Olympics Pakistan. I want to use this forum to talk about inclusion and acceptance—for everyone.
Over the years, I have witnessed only too often—and experienced first-hand—how many individuals view special people. They believe the differently-abled should have no friends. But I learned; they are wrong. That is just half the picture. Because the group of people I had the good fortune to meet not only accepted me for who I am, but also included me in activities that completely, irrevocably changed my life.
During my early childhood, I had many friends, but as we grew older, everything changed. My friends made their own groups which did not include me, often leaving me alone in one corner or another. I used to go home and cry. I would ask my mom if something was wrong with me, question why everyone made fun of me, and why I had no friends. I so wanted to be like those girls I had known all my life, but I remained on the outside, on the fringe, always “the other.” But now I know, if you really believe in them, miracles do happen.
In 2004, I met an angel. Ronak Lakhani motivated me to join Special Olympics, saying it would change my life. I listened, enrolled, and with guidance and hard work, became part of this mind and life-altering institution, going on to take part in the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games in China and winning two golds for my country. In the process, I made so many amazing friends.
My best friends, who are also my two best Unified partners, are Sanam and Nida. I really look up to them a lot and try to be like them. They have taught me so many things that I couldn’t even imagine, let alone learn. I have cherished each moment—and the learning continues. My life has been so enriched, that now, even when I am down, I can move beyond that mood by expressing my feelings in paint and in words, and I am heard. I have people who care for me and love me. Whoever said “A friend is someone who understands your past, believes in your future, and accepts you just the way you are” truly understood friendship.
So for all those out there who hear me, please accept people with intellectual disabilities, befriend us, engage with us, and involve us. Your support could change our lives and yours. Join me in pledging to spread inclusion for all people and all abilities.