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Fostering Inclusion: Launch of Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools

The launch of the Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools® (UCS) Project in South Africa marked a historic moment in the nation's journey towards fostering inclusivity and acceptance. On February 29, 2024, in Johannesburg, the launch ceremony was graced by esteemed dignitaries, including His Excellency Mahash Saeed Alhameli, the UAE Ambassador to South Africa, Minister of Social Development Ms. Lindiwe Zulu, Dr. Mathews Phosa, Chairperson of Special Olympics South Africa, and Mr. Charles Nyambe, President and Managing Director of the Special Olympics Africa region.

The UCS program, aimed at promoting social inclusion, brings together young individuals with and without intellectual disabilities (ID) through Unified (inclusive) Sports, leadership initiatives, and whole school engagement activities. The Special Olympics UCS program has received international recognition, including the prestigious Academy Choice Award from HundrED, a global leader in education innovation. This accolade underscores the program's effectiveness in driving positive change and promoting inclusive practices within educational institutions worldwide.

Building on the success of the UCS project and inspired by the legacy of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan generously committed US$25 million to extend inclusive education initiatives globally. South Africa received an initial grant of $50,000 to spearhead this transformative project.

Special Olympics Unified Champions Schools Launch
Recap video of the official launch of the Special Olympics Unified Champions Schools project in South Africa

“I would like to express our sincere appreciation to the people of the United Arab Emirates, and particularly the President, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, for their support of Special Olympics,” said Dr Mathews Phosa, Chairperson of Special Olympics South Africa. “They have not only celebrated the extraordinary athletic abilities of individuals with intellectual disabilities but through their generosity also serve as a beacon of inspiration for the entire world.”

Furthermore, Dr. Phosa commended His Excellency Mahash Saeed Alhameli for his unwavering advocacy for inclusivity in South Africa. Highlighting the ambassador's genuine passion for creating a more inclusive society, Dr. Phosa emphasized the pivotal role of collaborative efforts in dismantling barriers and championing the rights of individuals with intellectual disabilities.

“His Excellency has been an unwavering ally in Special Olympics South Africa’s mission for inclusivity. Our longstanding relationship is testament to a shared commitment to breaking down barriers and championing the cause of people with an intellectual disability in South Africa,” said Dr. Phosa, “He is a true advocate for our athletes and his dedication goes beyond the conventional realms of diplomacy; it emanates from his genuine passion for creating a more inclusive and accepting society.”

Minister Lindiwe Zulu echoed Dr. Phosa's sentiments, applauding the UAE's generous contribution to the UCS project. She stressed the importance of providing support and opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities in South Africa, reaffirming the government's commitment to promoting inclusivity and equality.

Through the launch of the Special Olympics UCS Project in South Africa embarks on a transformative journey towards building a more inclusive and accepting society. By empowering youth with the tools of inclusion, the project holds the promise of transforming lives and fostering a more cohesive and empathetic community, free from the shackles of segregation and stigma. As South Africa embraces the spirit of unity and inclusivity, it paves the way for a brighter and more equitable future for all its citizens.

The focused implementation of the Unified Champion Schools ® program across the country underscores the commitment of the Republic of South Africa to the Special Olympics Global Leadership Coalition for Inclusion, a multilateral platform that engages national governments to provide domestic financing to the expansion of inclusive programming for youth of all abilities in schools, community centers and sports clubs worldwide. Made possible through a generous grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the Global Leadership Coalition offers national governments, foreign aid agencies, United Nations bodies and more the opportunity to align inclusive policies with impactful programming, and work toward the full implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN-CRPD).  

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