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Community Impact

Special Olympics Romania Embraces Inclusive Support for Ukrainian Refugees through Unified with Refugees Initiative

Representatives of Special Olympics Europe Eurasia, SO Romania, and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency held a collaborative meeting in Bucharest to explore ways to amplify support for refugees.
Group of people standing side by side.
SOEE, SO Romania and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency after their meeting at the UNHCR office in Bucharest

A delegation from Special Olympics Europe Eurasia (SOEE), led by President David Evangelista, embarked on a journey to Bucharest, Romania, between 7-8 November to witness Special Olympics Romania's remarkable efforts in extending critical support to hundreds of Ukrainian refugee children and their families as part of the Special Olympics Unified with Refugees initiative.

By incorporating Unified Sports within reception centres and host communities, Special Olympics Romania has provided a platform for refugees to showcase their positive contributions in their new environments. This approach not only fosters community acceptance but also fuels a Unified Generation through sports.

Viktoria is among the refugees who have been residing in Romania since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine in 2022, along with her daughter Anastasia. For Viktoria, sports hold a special significance as a unifying force. In her own words, she said, "Sport has no barriers and it helps maintain physical and emotional stability." On 7 November, Viktoria and Anastasia were among a group of Ukrainian refugees actively taking part in a boccia event alongside representatives from SOEE.

SOEE President & Managing Director David Evangelista emphasized the importance of the Unified with Refugees initiative, saying, "In the midst of global challenges, Special Olympics’ Unified with Refugees program stands as a testament to the power of sports and community in offering hope and belonging to those who need it most.

“This initiative serves as a shining example of how collaboration between organizations, governments, and communities can make a significant impact in the lives of vulnerable populations, reinforcing the idea that everyone, regardless of their background, deserves a chance to thrive, connect, and be a part of an inclusive society.”

A group of people standing in front of Special Olympics signage.
Ukrainian refugees had fun playing boccia and shared some stunning paintings with the SOEE and SO Romania representatives

On 8 November, the joint delegation comprising representatives from SOEE and SO Romania visited UNHCR's (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) office in Bucharest and met the team led by Pablo Zapata, Representative of UNHCR in Romania. Their discussion centered around exploring ways to amplify support for refugees in Romania and the global partnership between Special Olympics International (SOI) and UNHCR, underscoring their shared dedication to empowering and protecting refugees through sports.

Pablo Zapata emphasized the importance of the partnership between Special Olympics and UNHCR in addressing the needs of refugees. He said: “Taking part in sports can be life-changing for refugees with and without intellectual disabilities. It breaks down barriers, creates friendships and helps inclusion in the community. Sport heals, brings hope and builds solidarity; it bring us together. I would like to thank Special Olympics globally and in Romania for their continuing work, including around the Ukraine war. Your projects are helping refugee young people and their families to feel welcomed and to develop their potential in a new country.”

Gerald Mballe, Special Olympics Advisor and Advocate for the Unified with Refugees program, added, "Special Olympics is dedicated to making the world a more inclusive place, and this includes extending a helping hand and protection to those who need it most.

“Our goal is to build bridges between displaced communities and those with intellectual disabilities. We want to demonstrate that everyone has a valuable role to play in society and that refugees, too, can find their place and contribute positively in their new homes."

A group of people standing side by side.
SOEE, SO Romania, Lions Clubs, UNHCR and UNICEF representatives at the Cotroceni Palace in Bucharest

The Unified with Refugees platform, launched by Special Olympics in 2016, is a collaborative effort supported by Lions Clubs International Foundation and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. The program's primary goal is to address the challenges faced by individuals living in refugee settings around the world. Unified with Refugees not only helps with immediate relief but also strives to create lasting, meaningful connections and opportunities for refugee children and their families.

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