It has been a year of profound challenges driven by restrictions, loss and uncertainty. The athletes of Special Olympics—many of whom were already severely marginalised by society—saw their daily lives made even more difficult with drastically reduced access to activities and education due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been particularly hard for our Young Athletes (YA) who do not necessarily understand why life has changed so much.
In Turkey, MetLife, seven universities and Special Olympics Turkey stepped into support Young Athletes (YA) across the country during this challenging time. Working together, they prepared and distributed YA backpacks to 150 children in response to the lockdown.
Eyüp from Denizli was among the Young Athletes who received a backpack direct to his door. “The YA project made our son Eyüp, aged five, very happy. Eyüp was very bored with staying at home during the pandemic. He was very unhappy that he could not attend school and training. He was very happy when he got his backpack. Now he does his regular workouts every day with us at home,” said his mother Nurgül Ayata and father Soner Ayata.
Gazi University in Ankara, one of the sites of in-person YA activities, helped with the distribution of the backpacks. Prof. Dr. Levent Ilhan from the university was full of praise for keeping children with intellectual disabilities active during the pandemic. “We are grateful to you for helping us reach Young Athletes in such a period. The contribution YA can make to children’s motor skills is vital to their development at home,” he said.
This work is part of a larger project which also supports eight other National Programmes in Europe/Eurasia. The goal is to activate family members through YA at Home during the pandemic. The other countries involved are Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Russia and Spain. Each backpack, designed to support Young Athletes and their families while at home, contains standard YA equipment, an Activity Guide, Strong Minds and Health Promotion materials, and a children’s book.
A huge thanks is due to MetLife associates from across the region who prepared and packed the individual backpacks, and also wrote personal messages of encouragement to the children and families.