After a recent meeting at the Special Olympics Egypt office, seven Special Olympics athletes and two Unified partners left feeling energized. They had just completed a “STEAM” Program workshop, a Special Olympics Egypt initiative to educate people with intellectual disabilities on topics of science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math.
Although the activity itself was enjoyable, it wasn’t the only reason why spirits were so high. The group was elated because this STEAM Program is something they helped organize, and after the successful workshop, they knew that when shared in schools and communities across the country, it will benefit the academic growth of their peers.
This group of nine people with and without intellectual disabilities, aged 16 – 35, make up Special Olympics Egypt’s Youth Leaders Council. Over the past two years, as part of the global expansion of Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools® funded by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ), the Youth Leaders Council has represented the interests of Special Olympics Egypt athletes and partners. The council is a collection of leaders for inclusion; members use this platform to express their opinions, promote ideas to benefit their peers, and develop their own professional capabilities.
The extensive collaboration between Special Olympics Egypt staff and the Youth Leaders Council shows the impact the council has on reaching new and existing members of the Special Olympics Egypt community. Members of the council regularly participate in Program meetings, and are called upon to volunteer at events, organize activities, and speak on the importance of actively including people with intellectual disabilities in everyday life.
The visibility of the Youth Leaders Council in Special Olympics Egypt proves that creating leadership opportunities for youth, and Special Olympics athletes in particular, provide immense benefits to a Special Olympics Program. Over the past two years, by developing their communication and organizational skills through hands-on engagement, the council has formed into a force of fierce advocates for change.
One example of the council’s impact is its work on Special Olympics Egypt’s vocational rehabilitation program, which provides opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities to gain employment.
Youssef, a member of the Youth Leaders Council and an experienced Special Olympics Egypt athlete, says the council’s perspective on the needs of people with intellectual disabilities helps with the Program’s success.
“We always work as a team on our ideas and [through our work] reach the goal to serve all people with intellectual disabilities,” says Youssef.
The two Unified partners in the Youth Leaders Council have also utilized this leadership opportunity to promote inclusion throughout the country. Omnia, a Unified partner and lecturer at the American University in Cairo, says her experience on the council has greatly improved her life.
“This experience has made me more creative, flexible, and comfortable with multi-tasking as a professional,” says Omnia. “My mindset toward people with intellectual disabilities has also changed, and I find myself more helpful [to others].”
Ultimately, the major goal of the Youth Leaders Council is to provide a space for young people of all abilities to feel heard and experience new friendships, and in turn, inspire them to change their communities. Lujain, a Special Olympics Egypt athlete and member of the council, is empowered by her inclusion in the group.
“[Because of the Youth Leaders Council], I’ve become stronger and I’m not afraid of my disability… I always love when we gather together."
As the impact of the Youth Leaders Council increases, Sherif, a Special Olympics Egypt athlete and member of the council, speaks on behalf of his peers and states they will continue to be a strong voice for inclusion in education and everyday life.
“I hope that we can help develop more [Unified] integration in schools and universities because of its positive impact on the spirit of us athletes,” says Sherif.