A team from Special Olympics International (SOI)and Special Olympics Asia Pacific (SOAP)toured India from 16-23 of April 2016 witnessing activities from Youth Activation, Young Athlete, Unified Sports conducted in remote rural areas as well as against the urban backdrop. Rebecca Ralston, Haylie Bernacki, Adrian Szamreta, Jenny Zhong, Dipak Natali and Simon Koh visited the states of West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand and Delhi NCR interacting with the Athletes, Families, Youth leaders, as well as authorities exploring potential areas of growth of the Special Olympics program in India as well as strengthening its impact in the Asia Pacific Region.
Their journey through Special Olympics in India began with a Unified football exhibition match played beside the river Hooghly at Agarpara, Kolkata, West Bengal. The location holds a Unified Play Clinic every Sunday conducted by the Special Olympics Coaches, supported by a Social Service Group. Coaches Tamal Chaterjee and Subir Ghose conducted the game, both of whom have participated at the Unified sport specific coaching camp held last year in Ballari (Karnataka).
The team went on to attend an Inaugural Session of a Weekly Play Clinic being started in collaboration with the Lions Clubs under Dist 322BI. The program was held at the Rabindra Sarovar Lions Safari Park followed by an informal interaction with the Lions Leaders, Parents, Coaches and the Athletes
Bhubaneswar, Odisha took the team 45-50 kms from the city to three Aanganwadi centres, two of which were located in the district of Bhanapur and one in Srimukha . In each of the centres Young Athlete activities were conducted, with an attendance of 50-60 persons in each of them.
7-a-side Unified Handball was conducted in Najoga Kasoti for a duration of 35 minutes. 5 Athletes and 9 Partners formed two teams, namely, Lion and Tiger. The match that showed a higher score for Tigers finally ended in a tie. Kalandi Bhoi, the Coach who conducted the match had attended Unified coaches training in Handball which was held in Ballari in November 2015.
None of the above would have been possible without the support of Ms. Kumudini Mishra, Child Development Project Officer, Nimapada Block, Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS). According to her and all others belonging to the State including Mr. Prakash Rath, Area Director and Coach Arpita Mohapatra, the visit of the SOI/SOAP team has been valued as recognition of their engagement in the community. It would provide a further boost to strengthen and expand the program in the days to come.
At Ranchi, Jharkhand the TATA Rehabilitation Camp was underway at the Adivasi Bal Vikas Vidyalaya in the district of Ratu, which is located 20 kms from the city. Notwithstanding temperature of over 43 degrees the camp saw attendance of 600 Campers including 330 Athletes. As a result of receiving insufficient rains the grounds in the area, however parched, continue to be the venue for sporting activities. It may be noteworthy; over 1200 bottles of water of a litre each along with separate supply of ice was arranged to keep the campers sufficiently hydrated over three days.
The visiting team attended one day of the 3-day Camp. They got an opportunity to interact with the Area Director, Mr. Bodhanwala along with other representatives of the State committee, the Sarv Shiksha Abhyan (SSA) and the Adivasi School.
The team received a traditional welcome after which they paid homage to the founder of the school, escorted by the Principal of the school, Mr. RK Mishra. Along with visiting the sports grounds the team witnessed healthy Athlete screenings along with interacting with the families and also presenting awards to a few of them. There was close interaction between the delegates and the Athletes as well as volunteers who were DMR (Diploma in Mental Retardation) Students.
Leaving a mark of their visit Rebecca Ralston, on behalf of the team planted a tree within the campus. There was also a 50 meter fun competition with participation of a few of the visiting team members.
The arrival of the team in Delhi took them to witness Special Olympics against a more formal set up with a strong presence of the youth. Apeejay School, Pitampura, Delhi, Amity University UP (NOIDA) and Divya Jyoti College of Dental Sciences and Research, Modinagar, Uttar Pradesh were the locations visited.
The Apeejay School shared experiences of the students with Athletes from Purti School. Apeejay has been part of Special Olympics Project UNIFY piloted in India in 2012, and has continued to keep the energy alive and growing. It was an opportunity to showcase before the team a well established program with experience sharing directly from the Youth leaders as well as future growth, under the dynamic leadership of their Principal D K Bedi along with Ms. Renu Nagpal and her able team
Amity University UP (NOIDA) signed an MoU with SO Bharat in the presence of the visiting team for providing year round sports training and athletic competitions for Persons with Intellectual disabilities. In the pipeline for quite a while, Special Olympics inaugurated its activities with the University in March 2016. The MoU substantiates the support and belief in both organizations to facilitate transformation on a large scale. Most of the students completing their education here would step directly into their careers with expectantly an Inclusive vision.
Dr Reena R Kumar, Principal, Divya Jyoti College of Dental Sciences & Research , Modinagar, Uttar Pradesh under the aegis of their Chairman, Mr.A S Jassar and CEO Dr. Smriti Jassar has been successful in creating a model wherein the Special Olympics activities are implemented regularly with all the dental students involved in at least any one of them. Along with visiting Suneedhi, the Special Dentistry Clinic at the campus, the SOI team witnessed and participated in a few sporting as well as non- sporting activities.
Support by the Dental Council of India (DCI) and Indian Dental Association (IDA) to Special Olympics was announced. Whereas DCI is a Statutory Body to regulate the Dental Education and the profession of Dentistry throughout India, IDA is the premier organisation of dental professionals in the country. In compliance with the recently inked MoU, DCI has directed all Dental colleges to provide free dental treatment and oral health care to Special Olympics Bharat Athletes all over India. Joining hands with IDA would secure industrial support as well as dissemination of information about persons with Intellectual disabilities within the profession and advocating inclusion through providing Oral care at par with the rest of the society.
The team visit also saw appointment of Dr. Reena R Kumar as Regional Clinical Advisor (Asia Pacific Region) and Divya Jyoti college of Dental Sciences and Research being a centre of Clinical Director trainings (Special Smiles)
The visit to Modinagar brought the visit of the SOI team to a conclusion. Every venue gave the team members an opportunity to interact closely with the Athletes, Partners, families, volunteers and officials, following the sporting and non-sporting programs.