Embedded in Morocco’s culture is the concept of “hadith wa-maghzal,” which is “حديث و مغزل” in Arabic, or simply “Walk and Talk.” This tradition consists of sharing conversation and wisdom while strolling or hiking with others. “Hadith” translates to “moral,” meaning that the goal of “Walk and Talks” is to learn something from someone else.
When the pandemic struck in March 2020, the athletes, partners, teachers, coaches and staff involved in Play Unified: Learn Unified across Morocco yearned to stay connected. With schools closed and COVID-19 restrictions in place, Special Olympics athletes and partners were feeling the absence of crucial education, social, and developmental experiences. When Morocco announced that its COVID restrictions would allow outdoor gatherings of up to ten masked people, Special Olympics Morocco found the perfect solution to the isolation. They would make “Walk and Talks,” an already important part of Moroccan culture, a Unified activity to get athletes and partners out of the house, physically active, mentally stimulated, and socially connected.
Unified Walk and Talks became a weekly activity throughout the pandemic and have continued into 2021. Unified Walk and Talks give athletes with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to practice their communication skills, while also developing social skills in the company of their peers without disabilities. Every week, the youth pick a new topic to discuss; examples thus far have included nutrition, sports, traffic safety, and independence. As the youth talk, they walk around town, visiting shops and historical sights while sharing thoughts and lessons. Through the Walk and Talks, athletes and partners have become much more confident in their speaking skills and much less shy with each other. Special Olympics Morocco staff notice that students now follow each other on social media and regularly discuss topics of interest outside of organized Special Olympics events.
“It’s so great to see inclusion become more grounded in the culture. The Walk and Talks keep the link between the athletes. They keep the link between this project—a huge project and one that we love so much—and the athletes. We see the impact that it has on the athletes. We see the inclusion.”
Given the popularity of Unified Walk and Talks and the clear motivation among the youth to stay connected during the pandemic, Special Olympics Morocco sought additional ways to navigate the socially distant and virtual world and gradually placed even more weekly events on the calendar. These popular weekly events continue today, with some adjustments for normal Unified Sports activities. For example, every Wednesday, athletes and peer partners get together for Zumba, while Thursday is reserved for Body Expression and TikTok dancing. If someone is absent from a scheduled activity, the new friends know exactly where they are because they are choosing to stay in touch with each other.
Overall, athletes and partners have formed strong bonds with each other and take pride in staying connected and intellectually stimulated. Many young people with disabilities across Morocco do not attend school, meaning Walk and Talks are filling a critical gap in their development. In the true spirit of hadith wa-maghzal, youth are learning from each other lessons about inclusion and friendship that will change their educational experiences forever. Special Olympics Morocco staff describe the robust events this way: “It’s so great to see inclusion become more grounded in the culture. The Walk and Talks keep the link between the athletes. They keep the link between this project—a huge project and one that we love so much—and the athletes. We see the impact that it has on the athletes. We see the inclusion.”