Tali, a recent secondary school graduate in Lebanon, has ambitious goals for her future. She plans to study business at the American University of Beirut and eventually further her education in France. Charismatic and open-minded, Tali is a natural leader comfortable around people of all walks of life.
Hard work and dedication certainly helped Tali get to where she is today, but she also credits her lifelong involvement with Special Olympics Lebanon as a catalyst to her success.
Tali’s father, a former Lebanese track and field star, founded Special Olympics Lebanon. Since Tali was four years old, she’s naturally been heavily involved with the Program.
“Since my early childhood I have been with [Special Olympics Lebanon] athletes by playing with them, building friendships, and hearing them. So to me they are like any other person, I do not see any differences,” said Tali.
Tali believes her exposure to inclusion at such a young age helped her become the promising leader she is today. She has extensive volunteer experience, has been able to travel, and has formed deep bonds with people who are different from her.
Starting in July 2021, Special Olympics Lebanon joined Play Unified: Learn Unified, supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), which has grown Unified School opportunities across the country. As a youth leader, Tali pushes educational institutions to become Unified Schools and advocates for youth with and without intellectual disabilities to interact with one another. She wants students to receive the same benefits she had from experiencing inclusive activities.
“My message is we have to increase the frequency of Unified [activities] and to let children at an early age meet young athletes and play with them,” said Tali.
Through her advocacy, Tali has seen mindsets change firsthand. Her recent presentation to the principal at the Kayan International School led to an agreement to have a youth team organize Unified events on campus. Even with this success, Tali says there is a lot more work to be done.
“Unfortunately, we do not have a lot of inclusive schools in Lebanon and through Play Unified: Learn Unified we are working to achieve this,” said Tali.
One point Tali frequently makes while advocating is that inclusive environments break down stereotypes and allow people of all abilities to embrace differences.
“People without intellectual disabilities who do not know much about people with intellectual disabilities meet them through Unified Schools and see they can be friends based on similar interests and ages,” said Tali.
Tali says as a result, youth with intellectual disabilities become more visible and youth without intellectual disabilities increase their emotional intelligence.
“Individuals with intellectual disabilities will not see themselves as different from others when [others] reduce inequalities. They will be more confident when accepted in the community. People without intellectual disabilities will learn how to be responsible and will accept [each other’s] differences,” said Tali.
As a youth leader, Tali has been able to share her story with many people. She doesn’t lose hope when the program speaks with others who aren’t ready for inclusion and finds inspiration from the change in behavior she has seen when educational institutions in Lebanon embrace inclusion.
“Each time we run a Unified activity on the ground we witness a spontaneous change in behavior,” said Tali.
“First athletes are sitting by themselves, and students are sitting in their corner but when the activity starts whether it is basketball or football, barriers fall, and friendship are built.”
For Tali, this confirms that barriers are meant to broken. She’ll continue to push for inclusion in her community and spread awareness about the benefits it can bring to all people.