Humans of New York covers Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi

Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York will be doing a special series on athletes, coaches, families, and volunteers participating at the Games.

At the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi, we are excited to share that Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York will be doing a special series on athletes, coaches, families, and volunteers participating at the Games.

What started as a photography project in 2010 with a goal to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers, and create an exhaustive catalogue of the city’s inhabitants, soon turned into a global phenomenon of quotes and short stories that capture the spirit of humanity. Here is the first post:

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“Sometimes my brain processes things difficult. I just need more time. And in school everything needs to be fast. You always have to know what’s going to happen next and it can be hard to make friends. My dad was always my biggest supporter. He’d come into my room at night and we would talk for hours. He’d tell me: ‘Your stories will make you famous one day.’ He’d show my writing to friends and family and I would get compliments. I didn’t know what to do after he died. I stayed in my room for six years. I wrote thirty-one stories. All I did was write. I only came out to eat. I wouldn’t speak to anyone. Last year my sister convinced me to visit an art studio for people with special needs. She asked me every single day, until one day she finally said: ‘I’m going to the studio and you’re coming with me.’ At first I stood in the corner. After so many years of doing nothing, it was hard for me to see people having fun. It was like a burning anger and then it came out in tears. I decided to join the group. The studio slowly opened me up to the world again. I began to make friends. I realized that so many things had happened while I was locked away. And while some things die, other things are being created. I understand now how beautiful that is. And I’ve started talking again. For the longest time my sister would beg me: ‘Please Asma, say something.’ Now she wishes I’d talk less.” (Special Olympics World Games, Abu Dhabi, UAE)

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“I first met him when he was thirteen years old. He lives in one of the most remote regions of Brunei. You can only get there by river. There’s no running water, no electricity, no utilities. Certainly no special education facilities. He came alone to our city looking for assistance. When I first met him, his trousers were completely torn. He was so small for his age. I’m a special education teacher, so I said to myself: ‘I’m going to help this boy.’ He lived with me for four years. It was the only way he could get training. I coached him on the Special Olympics soccer team. I tried to give him structure. I told him: take a bath every day, go to sleep early, always go to school. The advice had to be continuous because he forgets very easily. But I did everything for him. He became like my son. But he never called me ‘father.’ Always ‘teacher.’ And I never forced him to stay. He’d leave home for a few nights at a time, but he’d always come back. I was really hoping he’d live with me until he got a job. It’s dangerous for him to be on his own because he needs guidance. His family has many bad habits. But last October he turned eighteen, and he chose to go home. He reaches out to me sometimes when his family runs out of food. Or when he needs money. He knows that I can never say ‘no.’ At first it was very difficult. I worried nonstop. I’d always ask his friends: ‘Where is Azril now?’ But I have to accept I’ve done all I can. He has become an adult. When we return from the games, I think it’s time for me to let go.” (Special Olympics World Games, Abu Dhabi, UAE)

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“I’m here to support my older brother. You’d never know he has special needs by looking at him. But what you can learn in one hour, it might take him three or four years. Even though I’m younger, he’s always looked up to me. He writes on my Facebook wall all the time. He’s so proud of my accomplishments. On this trip he’s been sleeping in the bed next to me, but he still texts me that he loves me so much. My mom says he was so happy when I was born. He saw me as an example. Anything that I did—he wanted to do. He learned to feed himself after seeing me eat. He stopped using diapers once I did. It’s getting harder for him to copy me now that we’re adults, but the desire is still there. He wants to drive like me. He wants a girlfriend like me. He wanted a job at the grocery store so badly that he cried during the interview. He wants a family. And a house. And a car. And I want him to get there too. But I’m not sure he realizes how difficult those things will be. There’s another level he has to get past. Cooking is still difficult. And washing clothes. And counting money. We’re just not there yet. So I have to be ready for him to live with me for the rest of my life. And I have to hope that my future family will be OK with that. My brother wants to be independent so badly. And all of us want him to get there. But if he doesn’t, I’m here.” (Special Olympics World Games, Abu Dhabi, UAE)

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“We’re from the small island country of Vanuatu. I don’t know anything about sports, but nobody else wanted to coach the team. So I volunteered. Special Olympics gave me a list of sports and I chose the long jump. But two of my athletes couldn’t jump. So we moved to the javelin throw. But that was too hard to throw, so now we’re competing in the shot put competition. When I first met Monick, she’d never really left her house before. She couldn’t look me in the eye. And she was afraid of the shot put. She’d drop it on the ground every time I handed it to her. She’d hide her hands behind her back. But I invited her whole family out to train with us. Everyone participated. And that gave her confidence. On days we weren’t training, her mother gave her coconuts and rocks to throw. When it was time to compete, nobody knew if she’d be able to get on the plane. She was so scared. She was crying and clinging to me the entire flight. Once we arrived, we had to drive straight to the stadium for qualifications. Everything was so new for her. She’d never left her island before. The stadium was so big and she had to go out on the field all by herself. On her first throw she forgot everything she learned. She dropped the shot put immediately and the referee raised a red flag for disqualification. But then she looked back at us. She calmed down. She remembered being back on the island with all her family. And she threw it so far on the second throw. When the white flag was raised, we all went crazy. And she won the silver medal.” (Special Olympics World Games, Abu Dhabi, UAE)

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