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Community Impact

Raising the Bar for Inclusive Youth Leadership: The Story of Doukas School

In a crowded gym, two girls guide the hands of another girl in a wheel chair, as she places a Velcro ball onto a target.
Two Doukas School Partners assist a MATP athlete in a game.

Special Olympics is cultivating a global Unified Generation of young people who are advocating and demanding a more inclusive world. These young people are leading the movement for inclusion and capitalizing on opportunities to build bridges where once lay impassable chasms. The students of Doukas School in Marousi, Greece, are helping to fortify this youth-led revolution for inclusion.

When Play Unified: Learn Unified was launched across Greece in 2018, students in Doukas School, a private school, trained to become inclusive Youth Leaders. The Doukas School had long hosted a Special Olympics Motor Activity Training Program (MATP) event, consisting of sport-specific activities for athletes with severe or profound intellectual disability who are unable to participate in sport competitions because of their functional abilities. Doukas’ MATP event drew in many local athletes from special schools and grew in popularity every year among the Doukas school community. Through the Inclusive Youth Leadership trainings, the Doukas students came to recognize their power as leaders and to understand that they had the ability to change the culture of their school—starting with taking the helm of the MATP event to engage their entire student body.

A drawing of a boy and a girl crossing a bridge together, with a poem written in the clouds above. The poems reads “courage, pain, boldness and fear, together, enclosing eternal strength. Truth, kisses, joy, and hugs give us children hope!”
A poem created by the MATP athletes and Doukas School students together, that they presented during the MATP opening ceremony.

The Youth Leaders devised a plan to drive inclusion in their school by making MATP a more unified event, engaging all Doukas School students and local Special Olympics athletes. The Doukas Youth Leaders began by spreading the word on the school radio station. They then organized the entire program and ensured that every athlete had a peer partner. The culminating Unified MATP event included warm-ups and sports competitions, medal ceremonies, and—since by now the entire school wanted to be involved—a roaring fan section. After the event, youth with and without disabilities presented poems they had written together about the power of inclusion and the feeling of acceptance within the school. One poem read, “We are children, and we can live our dreams in our lives, imagine a better future, look at it, full of colors...make a brand-new start, I will accept you, you will accept me in a painting of art.”

A large crowd of around 50 students sits in stands in an indoor gym, holding up posters for the athletes. They range from elementary to high school-aged. Everyone is smiling and cheering.
A bustling crowd at Doukas School during MATP in 2019.

Students at Doukas School are in the forefront of a Unified Generation that is developing throughout Greece. Now, the yearly MATP has become a beloved Doukas School tradition. Students also compete in Unified basketball, an additional opportunity for students with and without disabilities to engage and form friendships. Doukas students attend other Special Olympics Hellas events, Special Olympics Europe Eurasia roundtables, and recently presented to the global Play Unified: Learn Unified community about their MATP. These young people are proud to belong to a generation that focuses on abilities rather than disabilities—a generation that is actively creating opportunities for everyone to feel included, welcomed, and valued.

Unified Schools

Special Olympics Hellas created 116 new Unified Schools during the first three years of Play Unified: Learn Unified. With the support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, this initiative has directly engaged 4,200 athletes with disabilities and Unified partners and trained 350 Youth Leaders across Greece.

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