"Thank you for thinking of us … The whole family is thrilled and we cannot wait to start training."—this was the enthusiastic feedback of Sanja Šćekić, mother of eight-year-old years old Tara from Podgorica when they recently received a #YoungAthletesAtHome or #MladiSportistiDoma package! Tara is just one of the many Special Olympics Young Athletes who can continue her development programme from home, thanks to the #MladiSportistiDoma campaign, an innovative cooperation between Special Olympics, UNICEF, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Sports and Youth in Montenegro.
The campaign—which focuses on children with disabilities aged between two and eight years old—involves packages with sports equipment and educational printed and video materials being sent to 240 homes across Montenegro. Accompanying instructional videos of Young Athletes exercises are then posted on the social networks of the project partners using the hashtag #MladiSportistiDoma. Through this initiative, Special Olympics Montenegro is enabling parents to take on the role of Special Olympics coaches in their homes during Covid pandemic. #MladiSportistiDoma comprises an impressive 48 half-hour video exercise sessions, three times a week for a period of four months. The campaign forms another component of UNICEF’s existing #IngrajSeDoma campaign.
The response to the packages—which have been sent to families in seven municipalities—has been overwhelmingly positive. On receiving the delivery, Nenad Bobić, father of five-year-old Strahinja, from Pljevlja, enthused, "This is great. We were not hoping for all this, so we were surprised when we opened the package. We started with the exercises immediately upon receiving it. The video material is great. We will follow the instructions. Thank you for your support."
The Special Olympics and UNICEF teams were quick to recognise and address the specific needs of Young Athletes struggling with isolation and keen to ensure that their development would not be affected by the lockdown, and they were immediately supported by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Sports and Youth. The programme is the first of its kind in Europe. Ivan Radović, National Director of the Special Olympics Montenegro noted, “Through this initiative, we are enabling parents to take on the role of Special Olympics coaches in their homes. We were the first in Europe to launch the implementation of the ‘Young Athletes at Home’ programme and we hope that other national Special Olympics programmes in the Europe Eurasia region will follow our example.”
Michaela Bauer, Acting Head of the UNICEF Office in Montenegro, added, “Crises such as the global COVID-19 pandemic do not affect all children equally. Unfortunately, children who were vulnerable before the crisis are even more vulnerable now. That is why UNICEF’s priority is to provide support to the most vulnerable, and among these are certainly families with children with disabilities.”
The families involved in the programme do not need to fear running out of material any time soon. #MladiSportistiDoma comprises an impressive 48 half-hour exercise sessions, three times a week for a period of four months.
"We were thrilled. The package is great. We have read some of material and everything is nicely explained. We will gladly send you photos from the training. Thank you once again for everything."—Mirela Borović, mother of eight-year-old Djurdja from Podgorica concludes.