Inclusion Perspectives from a team of Youth from Puducherry

 Onacis Madavadass , Youth leader without Intellectual Disability

I grew up in the small town of Puducherry completely oblivious of people with disabilities and their life in general. Being a sports person while playing football in my club I would only think about the opponent and how to defeat them. During one exhibition match with another club we heard about Special Olympics. Curious to know more about it , I requested my coach to arrange for an interaction. Fortunately SOB Puducherry was organising an International Net Ball competition and they wanted some sports persons as volunteers.

The World of Special needs opened in front of me where I saw 100s of children communicating in their own way and exhibiting their abilities. The more I got to know about both  Special Olympics and Special Needs  I was overwhelmed by the intricacies of the movement and the scope it offered to not just Special Atheletes but also to me. I signed up as a Youth Leader.  I had a dynamic Athlete Leader Mr Anil Hanumanthavarjula. Anil was and has been my source of inspiration since we met. Someone who is comfortable in 4 languages, has the capacity to speak his mind and always voices his opinions freely, there was so much to learn from him.

His public speaking capabilities amazed not just me but all those who have met him. Through my interactions I have felt & lived the impact of inclusion. Anil’s personal journey and his zeal to overcome all challenges is a fine example of  why  Inclusion  is very important.

Through my experience in SOB I have come to realise that “ Sport has the potential to be a catalyst for inclusion and people who work in sport have a responsibility to make this happen. Sport is better when its purpose and direction aim toward inclusion. Inclusion in and through sport means providing every person full respect, dignity, value and belonging in any roles they may play – athlete, coach, official, administrator, or spectator.. Sport for inclusion matters because it promotes the values, ideals and vision for acceptance, human rights and non-discrimination. Sport for inclusion questions and challenges the very notion of exclusion.  

Inclusion only becomes inclusion when persons with disabilities are not just present but engaged in meaningful ways. By including persons with disabilities, sport also provides opportunities for innovation and recognizes the range of diversity within the disability community itself. Sport can provide a variety of mainstream and disability-specific opportunities across the inclusion spectrum for persons with disabilities.”  

Anil, Youth Leader With Intellectual Disability

Growing up I was always shunned away as unlucky & unfortunate. My mother was asked to dump me in an institution as people around felt I was useless. This made a huge impression in my life and I wanted to prove myself at every step.

“Being a slow learner and with mobility issues excelling in academics was not an option. That is when I turned towards sports, grabbing all the opportunities that were approaching him be it play, sports, speech, writing, dance and mobility.  The day I won a running race I realised nothing is impossible. When I looked around I could see many more Anil’s who were struggling to do achieve something. Suddenly they all wanted to be like me. I understood that I had a bigger role to play than just my personal achievements.  SOB’s youth activation programme was my answer. I wanted to use this platform as a weapon to not just provide an opportunity to many more like me but also to ensure that I inspire youth leaders who could ensure that people like me are included.

Onasis was my answer to fulfil this dream. As a team we both could gel well. He was empathetic and understood my desires and at times even let me have a free hand when I was handling some sessions for youngsters.  Interacting with students from schools & colleges reassured me that my dream of making social inclusion a reality could be achieved provided we are able to excite and motivate the youngsters to look beyond their friends and to embrace people with all differences.

When the youth activation programme started it was quite challenging as I had to overcome my inhibitions and accept my Youth leader unconditionally. “There is no greater disability in society, than the inability to see a person as more.” –Robert M. Hensel. This quote is my mantra in this journey.

 Saravanan, Special Educator & Mentor of the Unified Pair

Though I have more than 7 years’ experience as a Special Educator, I had not come across a Mentoring Programme for our Special Atheletes. So when I got to know about it from the SOB awareness programme I  expressed my willingness to learn and understand this new concept.

I got an opportunity to attend both the state & national level training on Youth activation and understood the important role a mentor could play in shaping not just the special athlete but also the youth leader and build a mutually beneficial partnership between the two. Being the first trio from Puducherry to have been trained, I was always conscious that we need to give it our best and ensure that we set an example for the others to follow.

As the programme unfolded I realise that handling both the Special Athlete & the youth leader was not just challenging but I had to use different tactics keeping their individual needs in mind. While Anil need constant encouragement and confidence building, Onasis needed to focus on improving his understanding about disability and improve his communication skills. I am happy to note that this experience has not just been  beneficial to them but also to me both in my professional capacity and in my role as part of SOB.

The following are the basic guidelines I had set myself for this role of a Mentor: Value the mentee as a person rather than as a Person With Disability, develop mutual trust and respect, maintain confidentiality, listen both to what is being said and how it is being said, Help the mentee solve his or her own problem, rather than give direction and most importantly focus on the mentee’s development, and resist the urge to produce a clone.

The result was this amazing feedback I received from my athlete leader Anil:  “I have had a wonderful time with my mentor. We have both learned a lot from each other. Our strengths, weaknesses, and even how much alike we are. My mentor has been there for me through all the trouble times with me: during COVID lockdown, times when I was sick etc. But the one thing I have to say is that he has been one of the key people in my life.”

Mentoring to me has been an opportunity for friendship, awareness and a world of opportunities. It is also a relationship full of fun, exploring new avenues, breaking barriers and setting the tone for social inclusion.