Over 5.5 million athletes with intellectual disabilities participate in Special Olympics programs around the world, and the number of nations with at least one Special Olympics chapter is constantly growing.
One of the newer programs is in The Gambia. Located in West Africa and bounded entirely by Senegal, The Gambia is home to approximately 2.4 million people.
The Special Olympics Gambia program was re-accredited in 2017 and sent one athlete to compete in the 2019 Abu Dhabi World Games.
Today, it’s home to 92 athletes like Anna-Marie Badjie who participates in track and field. Anna-Marie wants to bring medals home to The Gambia and raise awareness about her fellow citizens with intellectual disabilities to people all around the world.
“I like to train with other athletes. We are family,” Anna-Marie said. “I want to build inclusive communities in The Gambia.”
Special Olympics Gambia also holds an Athlete Leadership Program which allow athletes to explore opportunities for Special Olympics participation in roles previously considered “nontraditional.” Such participation might come in the form of an athlete serving on the Board of Directors or local organizing committee.
Louie Sambou participates in the Athlete Leadership Program and sees progress on the horizon for his home nation.
“I have learnt numerical and writing skills. I want to be the voice of people with intellectual disabilities,” Louie said. “When I grow up, I want to build inclusive communities in The Gambia.”
There’s still work to be done in this small West African nation. Citizens with intellectual disabilities experience derogatory treatment from others, and complete equality is far from reality.
However, Special Olympics Gambia plans to play a pivotal role in eliminating stereotypes and promoting inclusion across the country.
As one Special Olympics Gambia parent puts it, “I want to see a society where an intellectual disability is not stigmatized, and our children live freely like other children.”
If nothing else, Special Olympics Gambia will be brave in their attempt to achieve this mission.