On the banks of the Suez Canal, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, is the Port Said Governorate of Egypt. For over two decades, Port Said has taken pride in being an active hub of inclusion—hosting Special Olympics local games, sending decorated athletes to World Games, and participating in the first Pan-African Games in Cairo. But that remarkable commitment to inclusion never found a path to the schoolhouse until 2019, when Play Unified: Learn Unified launched in Egypt.
In Port Said, students with intellectual disabilities attend educational centers, while students without disabilities attend mainstream schools. Because of this separation, there has been limited opportunity for students to participate in sporting events alongside each other. When Play Unified: Learn Unified was introduced in the Governorate, students in educational centers and students in mainstream schools were brought together to share in the joys of teamwork, sport and social connection.
In the following statement, Loau, a Port Said mainstream student, describes how his involvement with Special Olympics changed his understanding of people with intellectual differences.
“I am Loau, a 16-year-old mainstream student from Port Said. During the past two years I have been involved with Special Olympics through Play Unified: Learn Unified. I was also a Youth Leader who helped my school host a large tournament for Unified Schools across the Canal Region of Egypt. During that tournament we played alongside students with disabilities. It was a very valuable time for me and my peers, and we were very happy that we participated in such a great and impactful event.
“The best participation I had was during the virtual African Youth Summit in January 2021, and one of my best experiences was when I participated with my partner, athlete Abd. I gained many experiences from him and learned how to become friends with students with disabilities. It helped me transfer these experiences to my peers in the school and the club to encourage them to participate in our community more, especially with the activities of Special Olympics Egypt.”
Thanks to students such as Loau, Port Said is taking the next step in inclusion, bringing revolutionary change to a community ready to continue uplifting people with disabilities.