Project to Make Future Champs
Even as the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 is under way, the UAE has taken its first major step towards inclusiveness by taking the movement to schools in a bid to create leaders of change.
From the new academic year, all government schools in the country will follow Unified Champion Schools’ programme, which will see people of determination being part of sport events held at educational institutions. The first-of-its-kind nationwide programme in the Middle East aims to keep the ‘flame of hope’ burning for the people of determination. Top officials told Khaleej Times the programme will be a catalyst for change that will last a lifetime.
Mohamed Khalifa Al Nuaimi, director of the Education Affairs Office at the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi, said the programme will empower the people of determination.
“This works for schools which already have people of determination and can partner with centre for special needs to create sport activities together,” he said. Al Nuaimi urged private schools to get involved.
“We invite all private schools to have a look at the programme. There is no cost for this as all materials are available online at www.unifiedchampionschools.ae. They can download and implement it and improve environment at schools.”
Pilot project in 18 schools
Special Olympics UAE national director Talal Al Hashemi said the programme will help having a lasting legacy of the World Games.
“The pilot project was held in 18 schools, including workshops for 120 teachers. Now we will cover all the schools. This will help people of determination be part of the schooling process through sports.”
The programme, in line with UAE Vision 2021, involves the Ministry of Education and Special Olympics movement. It has three main components – inclusive sports, inclusive youth leadership and whole school engagement – through which schools develop a climate of acceptance where students with disabilities can thrive and are routinely included in, and feel a part of, all school activities and opportunities.
‘Aim to end discrimination’
Special Olympics chairman Timothy Shriver said to make an impact, the process has to start with young people.
“Young people should see value in all human beings as primary outcome of their education. We intend to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities and by doing so we will educate people about what it means to be inclusive of all abilities and all gifts of human family.”
Shriver termed the new programme a ‘classroom of sport’.
“There’s classroom which looks like desks, board and walls, this will be a classroom which looks like playing field. This is our model. We have our skills training and community building to sustain this commitment over the course of the future. The Games will end on March 21 but the movement continues,” he noted.
First of many more to come
Hessa Tahlak, assistant undersecretary of Social Development at the Ministry of Community Development, said the Special Olympics and new programme are the beginning of a long list of projects, initiatives and regulations that will impact the culture to include people of determination in all different sectors of the UAE.
“This programme will change the culture of how students think of their colleagues. Sport has no language. Everyone is passionate about it. This is a great project, method of inclusion and will continue to grow.”
She said the latest decision was a result of the UAE government’s ‘Retreat of Determination’ held on March 10. “Our ultimate goal is to build an integrated community that is capable of contributing positively to the development of the country,” she added.