Since the Play Unified: Learn Unified project was launched across Egypt in 2018, the country has grown to have 111 Unified Schools impacting over 14,000 young people. For Special Olympics Egypt's Unified Pair of Farah and Yasmine, Unified Sports has not only kept them physically active, but has also helped their friendship grow and strengthen.
Supported by the generosity of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, youth like Farah and Yasmine are leading the charge to grow Unified Schools and Unified Sports across Egypt. As part of a group of Youth Leaders, they help plan Unified programming and spread awareness about intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as participate in Unified events together. Even during the pandemic, they are staying connected through virtual Unified activities like Special Olympics Egypt’s virtual Unified Fitness Challenge in February 2021.
In the fall of 2020, Egypt’s virtual First National Youth Leaders Forum brought together dozens of Youth Leaders, with and without intellectual disabilities, to plan future Unified events—including the Unified Fitness Challenge. This is where Farah and Yasmine met, and bonded over a love of Unified Sports. Farah is a college student, and Yasmine, who has intellectual disability, is a student at a special school. As Youth Leaders, they have grown very close over the last few months. Together, they often attend virtual meetings, forums, and awareness talks about Unified programming—resulting in the project reaching even more teachers and coaches. In preparation for the Unified Fitness Challenge, they exercised and built up morale together.
“For me, sports have become essential and I practice on a daily basis with my sister Hana who also has ID, and with my friend Yasmine almost weekly. The bond between Yasmine and I has made a strong impact on my personality and with my group of friends. It got me to realize how we all need to have strong connections with friends—not only between siblings. It also helped me see how I can be a better friend to my sister, Hana. I realized that through sports we can connect and share our interests very easily.
Over 25 partners and athletes competed in the virtual Unified Fitness Challenge, which included three separate challenges over two days online. Youth split up into teams of students with and without intellectual disabilities and competed together in activities focused on strength and balance. Though teams were competing to win, the Challenge emphasized determination, positive mindset, and good sportsmanship.
Of course, team chemistry always adds a competitive edge: Farah and Yasmine’s team ended up scoring the highest and were deemed the winners of Egypt’s first Unified Fitness Challenge. Still, all participants walked away from the two days full of activities feeling like champions of inclusion, hard work, and solid self-confidence.
As Egypt’s Youth Leaders continue to plan for the future and growth of Unified Schools and Sports in Egypt, they will concentrate on connecting youth with and without intellectual disabilities through sport. As for Farah and Yasmine’s plan for the future? Referring to the current pandemic, Farah offered, “I wish we could go back to school, so we could meet up more!” Luckily, through the Play Unified: Learn Unified project, their bond is stronger than ever.
The Play Unified: Learn Unified project, supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, has created nearly 2,000 Unified Schools in 14 countries. In the Middle East/North Africa Region, this includes 226 schools in Egypt and Morocco.