On July 30, 2021, the International Day of Friendship was established by the United Nations to recognize friendship as a way to build peace among people with different backgrounds. For International Day of Friendship 2021, Benjamin Collins, an Operations Specialists at Special Olympics and a Special Olympics Maryland athlete, wrote the following piece based on his interview with a Unified Youth Leadership pair.
“A friend is one of the best things you can have, and one of the best things you can be.”
On 9 July 2021 I sat down with my new friends Exsaul and Rodrigo from Special Olympics Panama.
Exsaul is 21 years old and joined Special Olympics Panama five years ago. He competes in athletics as an athlete leader and a fundraiser. Exsaul competed at Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi and won gold by running 12:95 in 100m. He also won gold in shotput.
Rodrigo, 20 years old, started as a volunteer in school with Special Olympics Panama and is now a swimming coach. He is also a Unified Leader.
When Exsaul and Rodrigo first met, they formed an instant bond at a youth training conference. When they were assigned to present together at the conference their friendship grew instantly. They now stay in touch every week.
“It is important for people to know that just because someone has an intellectual disability it doesn’t mean they can’t do something. They are capable of doing everything they want” Exsaul said.
Rodrigo says the trust they give each other makes them more than friends, they consider themselves brothers.
“Inclusion is important in our society. If we are going to the future, we have to believe in this society and we have to fight really hard. Dare to do it!” said Rodrigo
The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t get in the way of their friendship. Exsaul and Rodrigo stayed in touch as much as possible and they are excited for their next adventure together!