Outside of Rohtak, Haryana, India, through a tarred road, driving over small hills of dust and sand, you’ll find the Chetanalaya Vishesh Gurukul special school.
In this region, it is difficult to separate people with Intellectual Disability (ID) from those without. Schools are limited and the socio-economic background of students is mostly the same. All children with and without ID have been attending the school together since it was founded in 2002. However, before Special Olympics was introduced to the school, students with ID would sit on the sidelines and remained segregated from their non-disabled peers. When the Play Unified: Learn Unified project entered, the school was able to partner with local private schools to provide high-level Unified Sports opportunities, bringing students off the sidelines and onto the field together.
A teacher at the school, Ms. Sunita Kumari, articulates the deeper meaning of Unified Sports, saying, “Unified Sports has not just created a change on the playing field for the Special Olympics athletes, it has also allowed the athletes to learn social cues and typical behavior from the Unified partners. This increases their confidence and the Special Olympics athletes feel less inhibited communicating with others. It helps drive them out of isolation because people around them begin to include them. Unified Sports has created opportunities for Unified partners as well. I know of many mainstream students who may never have had an opportunity to represent their country on a global platform, but the Play Unified: Learn Unified project has created that global connectivity. That is one of the reasons why the community has started to respond positively to Unified Schools.”
Priyanka, a Special Olympics athlete and current student at Chetanalaya Vishesh Gurukul, used to struggle to make friends and communicate with people outside of her family. But through playing Unified Sports and the opportunities presented by the Play Unified: Learn Unified project, she has found her voice.
In November 2020, Priyanka participated in the Unified Global Football Skills Virtual Competition and represented her school on a global stage. Priyanka later spoke during the culminating live celebration and shared her appreciation with peers around the world and with representatives from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
Across India, the Play Unified: Learn Unified project is reaching remote schools and spreading the message of inclusion and acceptance. Thousands of young people across India—including Priyanka—are finding their voice through the Play Unified: Learn Unified project.
With support from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the Play Unified: Learn Unified project is working to engage over 10,000 youth in India, with 401 Unified Schools participating in the project.