With support from the Global Center for Inclusion in Education, Special Olympics Pakistan has established a new recruiting strategy to reach those youth who could use inclusion most: students with and without disabilities who are separated from their peers in mainstream schools. Recently, Special Olympics Pakistan expanded Unified Champion Schools programming to the northwestern region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a province known for its mountains, valleys, hills, and farms. Special Olympics Pakistan kicked off programming in this new region with an activity that never fails: Unified Hiking.
Unified Hiking is a recreational awareness activity and one of the flagship events for Special Olympics Pakistan, inviting Special Olympics athletes, youth, and community leaders to join and create awareness while promoting healthy habits in an inclusive setting. Unified hikes encourage attendees to work collectively and develop a sense of togetherness.
Before starting the hike, participants including youth, athletes, community leaders, and hiking guides gathered to learn about the mission of Special Olympics and how Unified activities promote inclusion. Participants formed Unified teams and began hiking together. After bonding with each other during their hike, every Unified team came together at the trail’s endpoint to enjoy snacks and share their experiences.
More than 60 students with and without intellectual disabilities from five special needs schools in the region hiked together with the City School Abbottabad Campus, a Unified Champion School in Pakistan. The event was even attended by a former director of sports for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region—Mr. Tariq Mahmood, who has been a strong supporter of Special Olympics Pakistan.
The hike offered an engaging and inclusive experience for all its participants. Forming Unified teams and sharing at the end of the hike helped participants with and without intellectual disabilities develop understanding and meaningful connections with their peers, bringing students together who may not interact daily in mainstream schools. The biggest impact of the hike is that it has paved the way for inclusive whole school engagement activities as the Unified Champion Schools project continues in this region.
Special Olympics Pakistan plans to build on the success of the school’s first event by launching Unified Sports on campus, followed by Fans in the Stand and Recreational Unified Sports Day events. Along with the Unified hike, these events and continued inclusive programming, will bring students into the Special Olympics movement, and teach them how to work for a more inclusive world. Muhammad Taqi, a 14-year-old Unified partner in the eighth grade shared that following the Unified Hike, his perception about people with intellectual disabilities has changed drastically. Now, he understands that there are many commonalities between mainstream and special communities, with students from both school settings having similar interests and deserving the same level of respect and acceptance.
With support from His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, students with and without intellectual disabilities are learning the importance of inclusion in Pakistan and around the world. Learn more about the global expansion of Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools and the Special Olympics Global Center for Inclusion in Education.