From young athletes to coaches and from Mauritius to South Africa, Special Olympics Africa has been busy this season bringing members of the Special Olympics community together to provide training for those dedicated to creating a more inclusive world.
Special Olympics Africa hosted the very first Youth Activation Conference in Boksburg, South Africa. Youth from Programs in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Mauritius, South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, and Cote D`Ivoire came together to exchange informative and creative strategies on how to increase youth engagement and involvement in Special Olympics.
Youth leaders expressed the value of Unified participation in inclusion and community building in order to learn and develop life skills. Special Olympics South Africa’s youth representative, Zoe, said, “The youth have an extremely powerful voice and sense of solidarity and unity—even across borders. The young generation gains momentum as catalysts in their families, communities, and society at large. Physical activity is vital to the holistic development of young people, fostering their physical, social, and emotional health. The benefits of sport reach beyond the impact on physical well-being and the value of the educational benefits of sport should not be underestimated.” Events like Special Olympics Africa’s Youth Activation Conference exemplify Zoe’s statement. Special Olympics uses sport to engage youth who then work to make the world more inclusive.
In another event geared toward youth, Special Olympics South Africa, in partnership with Grassroot Soccer and LoveLife, hosted a holiday camp to implement the Skillz for Life curriculum. Grassroot Soccer has been implementing Skillz for Life in South Africa since 2010. Its partnership with Special Olympics in South Africa and Nigeria has allowed for adaptation of the curriculum to benefit people with intellectual disabilities. People with intellectual disabilities and their families regularly encounter stigma and discrimination that have led to severe gaps in their health education, services, and resources. As part of South Africa’s camp, campers were taught about HIV/AIDS, peer pressure, how to stay healthy, and how to stand up to bullies. Special Olympics South Africa decided to host its own Skillz for Life camp because of recent studies that indicate there are more adolescents in the world today (1.8 billion) than at any other time in history, and they are being left behind in the fight against disease and other critical health challenges.
Ashley, a camper and Special Olympics athlete who will compete in the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi, found the week-long camp to be both fun and insightful. He said, “A lot of teenagers like me are finding themselves under a lot of peer pressure from friends. A lot of youth find themselves trapped in circumstances where they cannot find a way out. I am happy that the Skillz for Life curriculum made me aware of ways of dealing with peer pressure.” Special Olympics South Africa is hopeful that the camp participants will be able to take what they learned as part of Skillz for Life and share it with their communities. Sibongile, a Unified partner who participated in the camp, even said, “I hope that one day I can also be a Skillz for Life coach to help the youth in my community.” Participants like Sibongile will continue to share the camp’s legacy.
Just like the youth of the Special Olympics movement, coaches are very important in paving the way to a more inclusive world. In Kwa-Zulu, South Africa, 47 new coaches were trained at a two-day Young Athletes Training Workshop. Special Olympics Young Athletes is a sport and play program for children with and without intellectual disabilities between the ages of two and seven. The new coaches took part in theory sessions on the first day and spent time getting to know and learn from athletes and their Unified partners on the second day. Twenty bags of equipment were distributed to the participants to enable them to start new Young Athletes programs in their communities or help them with their current programs.
In Africa, the Special Olympics movement has been very busy this season. Youth, coaches, and athlete leaders are the essence and driving force of the movement, and it is very inspiring to see all the work they are doing.