Officials of Special Olympics Nigeria with SOS members during the 2012 EKS Day
To cater for children with disabilities, there is now a Special Olympics Support group to help them overcome discrimination, writes Mary Ekah
With stigmatisation, discrimination, hatred and abandonment, their conditions always go from bad to worse. Clearly, children born with intellectual or any other forms of disabilities are often neglected by their families and the society, as though they do not deserve to live. But now, a group of young people says this must change.
The initiative, a brainchild of Special Olympics Support (SOS), a non-governmental organisation dedicated to empowering individuals with intellectual disabilities to become physically fit, productive and respected members of the society through sports training and competition is made up of mainly young people who are determined to stop discrimination against all forms of disabilities in Nigeria.
During a recent re-launch of SOS and the 2012 celebration of Eunice Kennedy Shriver (EKS) Day, which is a day set aside every year in remembrance of the founder of Special Olympics worldwide, Ms Eunice Kennedy Shriver who lived from 1921-2009, the Co-founder of Special Olympics Support (SOS), Ms. Princess Roberts said she founded the organisation along with her siblings in 2006. She said: “Our brother, Damilola Roberts was a Special Olympics athlete in 2003, which was the first one that Nigeria participated in, and he won a gold medal. That was the time we first learnt about Special Olympics in Nigeria.”
“So, we decided to create an initiative to raise money to support Special Olympics’ course and to also create awareness as we got to know that a lot of Nigerians, particularly young people, did not know anything about Special Olympics. We also realised that all over the world, Special Olympics is driven by young volunteers who help coach the athletes, create awareness and run various events and so we decided to do something like that in Nigeria.”
Accoding to her, “Special Olympics games afford kids who are often kept at home as no-goods the opportunity to come out and have social lives by getting involved in sports events worldwide. Special Olympics is all about intellectually challenged people and creating the awareness that there is no point hiding away children who are intellectually challenged. It does not just take the athletes to World Games but gives them a chance to live up to their dreams. The whole idea for Special Olympics is to expose intellectually challenged children so that they would see the other side of life from the life of solitude they have always known.”
An SOS member, Ms. Princess Abumere, said: “Now, we are getting young people together to sign up as members and we are hoping that by December 2012, we are going to have over 200 volunteers.”
Abumere noted that the young volunteers being signed up at the moment have a lot of work to do like coaching the athletes, adding, ‘we are just asking for their time, ideas and services.”
Abumere said that SOS through its campaign is trying to give children with disabilities a meaningful life. “SOS has made a huge impact over the years because a lot of these people with intellectual disabilities are oftentimes shut out of normal life by their families at home so that no one knows about them while at other times they are at institutions or Homes where they are abandoned by their families.” “We want to get them out there so that they can interact with other people as well as use the abilities that they have in them like in athletics and swimming.”
Abumere, who claimed SOS has so far enjoyed tremendous assistance from individuals and corporate organisations, said that the challenge has been getting people to sign up because so many people are working and it is pretty difficult for them scheduling time for the SOS activities.
“People cannot really be flexible with their schedules, especially with the situation in Lagos and that is just our major challenge but other than that, we are doing well,” she said further.
Although, SOS concerned itself with people living with disabilities, the organisation said that SOS activities are not just for Special Olympics athletes but that, “It is for everyone to come together to champion the freedom of the people living with disabilities.”
It says, kids who are not intellectually disabled have helped the other kids train as they play football together and when they are on the filed with these kids, it does not seem like anything is wrong and so everyone plays together in love. We have had unifying and inclusion games that send a message of oneness. Don’t look at people with autism or Down syndrome and say oh this person is different from me. What we are saying is they are just like us and we are all one.”
Dr. Alero Roberts, a parent of one of the children with intellectual disability described SOS as a wonderful innovation. “One of the biggest problems those of us who are parents of children with intellectual disabilities always face is the issue of stigmatisation. The other parents out there without this challenge do not want their children to play with our children because they think that they could be infected. So, we go through a lot of this issue when we are trying to get our children through school or to get them to take part in social activities.”
According to Robert, whose first child is physically challenged families of the people living with disability must rise against stigmatisation rather than keeping such physically challenged people in solitary confinement. . “As my children grew up, they knew no other situation. For them, their elder brother was “normal”, they don’t know any other difference, so they just played with him and accepted him completely as he is, but as they grew older and began to see the issue of stigmatisation, of course they were now able to stand and fight for his right to belong to the society. When they go out for parties and other social events, they always defend him against any form of discrimination and also make sure that he is included in everything that is going on.
“Don’t forget that we are seeing a lot of this intolerance in our society like the Boko Haram which is a religious intolerance and we don’t like it. We are seeing intolerance to people who are somehow different for whatever reason. So this is a generation of young Nigerians who have decided that the issue of intolerance in our society mut be stopped. We are not going to have it any more.
“For example as you watch them now playing Volleyball together with those who are normal you cannot tell the difference and they are all having fun together, they are engaged in wonderful activities and everybody is having fun and they are going to leave here all becoming friend and happy. This is what we want for the society, where young people come together without bothering to know who is from what tribe and who has gone to which school,” she empahsised.