Our Impact

Changing Views of Self and Others: The Story of Shiyu, a Youth Leader

A girl around 14 years old stands inside at school, wearing school clothes. She smiles and gives peace signs with both hands.
Shiyu at Unified Sports practice in Xi’an, China.

The following is a first-hand account of the impact of Play Unified: Learn Unified in Xi’an Shaanxi, China. Shiyu Zhang, a student with intellectual disability, details how her life has shifted for the better as a result of Unified Schools.

I am 18 years old, studying in Xi'an Qizhi Special Education School. Since my childhood, I have been different from other children, being shorter and facing some development challenges. For my sake, my mother even quit her job to spend her time focused on my education. I spent my kindergarten, elementary and middle school days at general schools with children without disabilities. However, I was very unhappy when studying in these general education schools. My academic performance was poor, and none of my classmates wanted to spend time with me. Many of them looked down on me and laughed at me, and some even bullied me.

A girl around 14 years old stands inside at school, wearing school clothes. She poses dramatically, with one arm straight in the air in a fist and the other arm bent.
Shiyu at Unified Sports practice in Xi’an, China.

I started to feel afraid of children my age and did not dare approach them. I usually spent time at school with children in lower grades because they never bullied me. My parents troubled their minds about my suffering from bullying and turned to the school and teachers. Although my teachers tried to be advocates for me, I was still often bullied by my peers. Perhaps my classmates were cruel to me because they simply didn’t know how to get along with me—and I believe they did not mean to hurt me so badly. Still, those years in general education schools are the experiences that I try to forget.

For my education, my mother asked around and found Xi'an Qizhi Special Education School, where I now continue my education. It didn't take me a long time to get used to the new environment. Here, I am happy every day; the teachers, classmates and classes are very different, and no one bullies me anymore. I have learned a lot of knowledge and skills. I also participate in extracurricular activities like playing the flute, African drums, dance and more.

Although this new and safe environment was bringing me happiness, my teachers said that our goal was still to integrate me into the normal society healthfully and smoothly. Special Olympics is the inclusive platform to help us do exactly that, by connecting us with peers without disabilities through Unified Sports. Play Unified: Learn Unified helped me meet youth without disabilities in a fun and happy environment.

In August 2019, the 7th National Special Olympics Games was held in Tianjin, China. I attended the Special Olympics Inclusive Youth Leadership Summit as a Youth Leader, along with my Unified partner Fuzi, who is a beautiful, smart, and tall girl. It was my first time participating in such a large-scale Special Olympics activity, and I was happy and nervous at the same time. Although younger than me, Fuzi was able to help me in every way, and we both completed all the activities together successfully. I have never had an experience like this before, with a peer who did not have a disability. The following October, I took part in the 2019 Special Olympics East Asia Unified Basketball Tournament in Xi'an, where my good friend Fuzi and I served as hosts at the opening ceremony and participated in a dance performance. I was not as nervous on stage this time; I was much more confident than before and successfully completed my hosting and performance tasks alongside my friend.

“In the big family of Special Olympics, no matter who we are, or how different we are, we all love and help each other. How much I wish the whole society could be as full of sunshine as Special Olympics always is!”-
Shiyu, Youth Leader

Before Play Unified: Learn Unified, I avoided being physically active. However, after getting involved in Special Olympics, I started to love playing sports. Whenever I run, I always want to pass others. Whenever I see others playing basketball or skating, I ask if I can join them. My teachers and my parents say I am tougher and more sensible than before.

Through participating in Unified Sports, I have met many friends who are like me and many who are not like me. In the big family of Special Olympics, no matter who we are, or how different we are, we all love and help each other. How much I wish the whole society could be as full of sunshine as Special Olympics always is!

Unified Schools
Special Olympics China engaged 6,000 new athletes with intellectual disabilities and Unified partners without intellectual disabilities over the first three years of Play Unified: Learn Unified. This initiative, supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, drives in inclusion in schools and communities through sport.

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