While the pandemic changed the normal, it did not dampen the spirit of the youth to join Special Olympics along with infusing a youthful zeal within the adult mentors. From March to July 2021 seven Local Youth leadership Summits were held across eight states engaging 752 youth with and without ID and reaching out to 145 schools, out of which 98 were introduced to this program.
The Summits triggered and substantiated the evolution of Youth Activation at state levels. The states of Rajasthan, Delhi, Gujarat, Assam, Chattisgarh, Haryana , Uttar Pradesh and Uttrakhand reached out to the Youth to form core planning teams , with the leadership of whom, state level virtual and in-person summits were held inviting the school administrators, teachers, coaches, parents, media etc. These followed up to the three -day Virtual National Youth Summit held in October 2020
Special Olympics Asia Pacific opened the opportunity for India with the Lead to Include Project, supported by Lane Global Youth Leadership, Kantar, PMI Educational Foundation (PMIEF), Microsoft and other supporters creating global, National, and local opportunities to train the youth as not only Youth Leaders, but as trainers of other Youth Leaders.
‘It was a very enlightening experience where we got to learn about Inclusion and about Intellectual Disability and how we can reach greater heights if we, the youth, learn to take everyone with us and move forward’– ANWESHA SHARMA, Youth Leader, SOB Assam and student of Tata Institute of Social Science, GUWAHATI
Jignesh Thakkar, Member of the State Board, SO Bharat Gujarat- “Most of the districts did not have the Youth involved. The local summit has activated the inactive zones, encouraging the Unified pairs to interact with each other. Our greatest achievement is that we managed to get on board high potential but inactive zones like Rajkot. This session will surely, strengthen our currently underway, Unified Champion Schooling program”
Youth Activation took roots in India under the banner of ‘Project Unify’ piloting in 2012, across the three states of Bihar, Delhi and UP. It continued to percolate to more and more untouched territories reaching out to students with and without Intellectual Disability, in the past 5-6 years expanding its horizons to including schools, and their administrative heads, teachers, coaches families, local authorities, school boards and the list is going on. In 2017 a Youth Activation Committee NCR was formed that rapidly began to EDUCATE MOTIVATE and ACTIVATE the youth while learning and developing through their new experiences
Small doses of the Innovation Grant gave a strong boost to Youth Activation – opening doors for the Youth to work in unified pairs (a youth leader with Intellectual Disability and another without) to lead the change through innovative concepts and practices establishing its importance in different states of India. The Innovation Grant was an amount that was planned and utilized by the Unified pair, with the support of the State Chapters, to bring on board more schools and youth to join the Inclusion Revolution. Between July 2018 and January 2021, seven pairs of youth from the states of Assam, Delhi, Jammu, Odisha, Puducherry and Rajasthan, reached out to 15 Schools engaging 800 youth in their respective projects. The Innovation Grant fueled projects, exposed the potential of the Youth to innovate and triggered a thinking and an attitude of allowing them to LEAD
The projects covered multiple activities initiated by the youth some of which are there to carry on like:
Designing of the Typed Tales Website which is an e-Learning platform that facilitates Socio-emotional learning for persons with and without ID through visual stories.
A Qualitative Study was carried out on the effect of Sport Participation on the General Mental Health of the Athletes
A National Sibling Forum and a Family café was designed to deepen the engagement of the family members
A nine-week Communication workshop sensitized 30 Athletes (across 3 batches) to the foundations of Social Communication and Leadership
Rolling out a model of carrying Youth Activation at the community level Mr Prakash Rath, Area Director- SO Bharat Odisha said, “The foremost visible development of the project was the tremendous improvement in the confidence and communication of both, the athlete and the partner. The other aspects were their own bonding and respect for each other. On several occasions it was witnessed that Indramani was guiding Bibha during preparations and presentations. Both of them became youth leaders. Creating mass awareness among the youth and spreading awareness about Special Olympics and inclusion through the Youth created a different environment and that was a major outcome of the project.”
Along with innovative designs came inclusive surprises through multiple virtual interactions, Unified Rap, Unified Poetry, Unified Theatre, to name a few. As the program strengthens its roots, new schools continue to join across an increasing number of states evolving new inclusive strategies of engaging students with and without Intellectual disability
Chitra Shah, Area Director, SO Bharat – Puducherry, “Generally college students react emotionally and excitedly when they interact with People with special needs. But the Innovation grant through its various awareness program and capacity building exercise has resulted in not just sensitizing them but truly making them see and believe in the abilities and genuinely create avenues for long term sustainable collaborations. For the first time the outlook has moved from charity to partnerships and a level playing field”