Achieving equality through sport in Serbia

As the first anniversary of Special Olympics’ milestone partnership with Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) draws closer, our teams travelled together to Serbia to explore the impact of the collaboration in schools across the country.
A group of people pose for the camera, standing between Special Olympics branding in a school.
The Special Olympics and Stavros Niarchos Foundation teams meet with the pupils, staff and school director of Special School Bunanj in Serbia.

In the summer of 2018, Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) and Special Olympics joined forces through a powerful US$10 million partnership focused on youth and school engagement and promoting equality through sports. A key aim of the collaboration is to develop ‘inclusive education’ which gives students with and without intellectual disabilities the opportunity to learn and play together. And a recent tour of Serbia showed how the ‘Play Unified. Learn Unified’ project is already doing just that in schools and communities across the country.

Inclusive education spreading through Serbia

From Pirot to Niš and from Cacak to Belgrade, inclusive education and sports are fast becoming buzz words in Serbia. Travelling with the Special Olympics team, Rosalyn Benjamin and Panos Vazaios from SNF had the opportunity to see this first hand, including watching new Unified volleyball and Unified table tennis teams – comprising players with and without intellectual disabilities – in action, viewing practice sessions in participating schools and visiting new sports facilities and a new Unified School established in Pirot thanks to SNF support.

“This project will connect schools”

A meeting with the Niš Regional President of Schools Dragan Gea revealed how ‘Play Unified. Learn Unified’ is enhancing cooperation and collaboration within the school system. He said, “This project will connect schools in this region and provide the opportunity to exchange ideas between people working on it.” The support of Mr. Gea—as well as the Mayors and Councils of participating towns—has been key to the project’s success, added Aleksandar Stanojevic, National Director of Special Olympics Serbia.

Year One is not even complete and the benefits of the SNF-Special Olympics partnership are already on show in Serbia. Within three years, the aim is to have run ‘Play Unified. Learn Unified’ in 75 schools across the country. Meanwhile along with the 14 other focus countries for the project—Brazil, Chile, China, Egypt, Greece, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Russia, Chinese Taipei and Tanzania—the global aim is to 2,000 new Unified Schools. Watch this space.

To learn more about the Stavros Niarchos Foundation: https://www.snf.org

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