“Through the example set by Special Olympics athletes, I was able to not only participate in my favourite sport, but also discover a completely new way of thinking”—it was with these words that Special Olympics Unified Partner Gerald Mballe powerfully addressed a recent meeting with the leadership of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. Speaking alongside Special Olympics Europe Eurasia President and Managing Director, David Evangelista at UNHCR headquarters in Geneva, Gerald underlined Special Olympics’ ongoing efforts to engage refugee and migrant youth—of all abilities—across the world and discussed ways to strengthen cooperation between both organisations.
Gerald, a refugee from Cameroon now living and working in Italy, shared a compelling personal account with UNHCR Deputy High Commissioner, Kelly Clements, Director of External Relations, Dominique Hyde, and Senior Refugee Sports Coordinator, Nick Sore, on how sports had offered him the opportunity to integrate. Moreover, he described how the Special Olympics community offered him a unique and welcoming new home as he settled into his new country. So profound and transformative has Gerald’s experience with Unified Sports been that he has become an enthusiastic advocate for the programme, particularly the impact that it has on marginalised populations—with and without intellectual disabilities—worldwide.
“There is no doubt that Special Olympics has fully transformed my life,” Gerald noted. “As a refugee in a new country with a new language, culture, customs, it was very difficult for me to integrate into activities without feeling discrimination or a certain underlying scepticism of my presence. Through the example set by Special Olympics athletes, they have given me a sense, and place, of belonging.” Gerald went onto describe how, in his home country, individuals with intellectual disabilities—in particular children—were hardly are ever seen, largely hidden and almost never offered opportunities to participate in sports.
Gerald spoke about how Special Olympics is strategically using the Unified Sports platform in refugee camps, reception centres and beyond to demonstrate the ways in which refugees can positively impact their new communities and drive a truly Unified Generation through sport.
Impressed by Gerald’s passionate address, the UNHCR leadership emphasised their hope to strengthen ties with the Special Olympics movement and, moreover, their wish to amplify Gerald’s voice so he can continue to advocate for social inclusion worldwide.