When Special Olympics Malawi coach and community leader Joyless Mambeya visited the Mangulu village to teach nutrition and hygiene, he discovered Aaron—a nine-year-old child with intellectual disability—tied to a tree.
Aaron is the oldest of five children. His mother began to restrict his movements when he was two years old as a way of managing the demands of a child with an intellectual disability. That meant Aaron spent hours secured to one spot, unable to participate in daily activities, unable to learn or to develop.
Coach Mambeya saw an opportunity to not only help Aaron, but help change the attitudes of a community. He untied Aaron and carefully explained to the child’s mother that Aaron was not dangerous to himself or others. He also discussed how it was important for Aaron to be active like other children and to learn about life in his village.
Soon Coach Mambeya was visiting Aaron three times a week to help foster his physical, mental and emotional development, while also teaching his parents about Aaron’s unique needs and gifts.
In the years since, Aaron has gone from having a constant serious expression to smiling regularly. He was once seen as a burden to his family but now helps his mother prepare meals in the kitchen and with other household tasks.
As their understanding began to widen, Aaron’s family has become an active part of the Special Olympics movement in their community. His father volunteers and talks to other parents at Family Health Forums and at Special Olympics events to describe the benefits of Special Olympics activities in their children’s lives and development. His brother has been trained as a Special Olympics coach to better understand Aaron and support him at home. Now, instead of being looked at as a nuisance, his neighbors and community members are able to come and play sports at his house.
By working with just one child and one family, Coach Mambeya helped change longstanding attitudes, behaviors and beliefs in an entire community. That is the power of Special Olympics.