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Community Impact

Play Unified : Learn Unified Expands to Two New States in Mexico

Professor Pedro Balbuena stands with four teenage Unified Athletes and partners holding drums at a school in Guerrero, Mexico.
University Professor Pedro Balbuena with Unified Athletes and partners in Guerrero.

With the right support, the Special Olympics' #InclusionRevolution can flourish even in unexpected places.

This is on full display as the Play Unified: Learn Unified project expands into two new states of Mexico: Chihuahua and Guerrero. Chihuahua, named for its vast desert, is located in north-central Mexico, just south of the United States. Guerrero is a rural, coastal state in central-western Mexico with a richly multi-cultural population. Before the Play Unified: Learn Unified project, youth in these states had no exposure or access to Unified Schools and Unified Sports programming.

However, in early 2020, Special Olympics Mexico leaders from nearby states invited several schools and universities in Chihuahua and Guerrero to attend virtual awareness talks about Unified Schools. School officials and students immediately recognized the opportunities that Unified Schools presented and were eager to participate. Students and teachers from these schools were interested in connecting with local youth with intellectual disabilities to offer them better access to educational opportunities. Through the support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation as part of the Play Unified: Learn Unified project, Special Olympics Mexico is able to partner with these schools to provide the Unified Sports opportunities that will connect local youth with and without intellectual disabilities.

Play Unified: Learn Unified will positively impact hundreds of youth across Guerrero and Chihuahua. In Guerrero, four schools will begin implementing Unified Sports over the coming months. Universities in Guerrero have already started to host virtual panels to educate students about intellectual disabilities. Further north, the Autonomous University of Chihuahua recently held an educational forum about Unified Schools with over 460 students in attendance.

Despite challenges presented by COVID-19, the interested schools remain steadfast in their desire to cultivate strong Unified Sports and inclusive educational programs. In 2021, these schools aim to develop additional inclusive activities such as educational talks for university students about intellectual disability and health seminars for youth with intellectual disabilities. University professor Pedro Balbuena of Guerrero described his inspirations for the new connection: “I hope to be able to carry out sports, cultural, and health events and promote inclusion with Special Olympics Unified Schools.”

For many Special Olympics participants around the world, 2020 has been a year of adaptation to change. In Chihuahua and Guerrero, schools have found ways to use virtual platforms to not only maintain connections but to forge new ones and reach more students and youth than would typically be possible. Special Olympics Mexico is building a strong foundation for Unified Schools in these states and will continue to grow Play Unified: Learn Unified in Guerrero, Chihuahua, and across the country.

With support from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the Play Unified: Learn Unified project is working to engage over 2,000 youth in Mexico, with 99 Unified Schools participating in the project.

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