Special Olympics Young Athletes is a sport and play programme for children with and without intellectual disabilities, aged two to seven years old.
I was actually unconfident in how to play with children with intellectual disabilities (ID); didn’t know how much I could give to them. But from the beginning of the visit to the end, I was really enjoying those smiles, the happy atmosphere and fun activities we played together. My worries did not exist during the trip. I cannot tell which children are with or without ID, and it doesn’t matter at all. But I can tell we all enjoyed the moment and memories we created together.
In Haryana State, I saw two completely different sport and play environments for Young Athletes between a private inclusive school and an NGO school. But those innocent, pure and hearty smiles warmed my heart with no difference.
Every site we visited, when we arrived, children always looked at me with curiosity and questions. Once I stretched out my hand and tried to have high fives with them, their smile burst out. Happiness is contiguous to everyone in the place.
There was a boy who didn’t want to give high fives with my male team members, he kept hiding behind the parent until he saw me; he pointed at me with hum and then I quickly approached and gave him a high five with a really big smile, and won his satisfied smile as my reward for a quick response. I feel touched by a little boy without any reason in the first site visit.
In the second site visit day, we visited every classroom in the school building of Chetanalaya to meet and greet children. Most of them, 90% or so, are shy. ‘Namaste’ with gesture and smile easily warms up the atmosphere. And I rotated to give high fives again and again, one by one to every child, and so my team did. Everyone was singing in a happy harmony.
While I noted the introduction and explanation from the teacher and Sulekha Rana, the
co-ordinator of Special Olympics Bharat, there was a girl who pulled down my notebook to see what I was writing. I gave her my pink pen, and she unexpectedly drew me a heart. It was a really amazing moment. I was moved by the heart she gave me, because I was supposed to be the one to give heart. Her appearance cannot tell her intellectual challenge, and her love without hesitation or any request touched me very much. I was entirely moved by a little girl with extremely short hair.
In the Anganwadi centre, people gather together for the day’s activities. When the Young Athletes play sports, the women group together to chat. Though the playground is full of dust, there is no air conditioning available, and the fans do not work due to electricity shortage, it is a larger and brighter place to stay than their houses.
I met Great mothers here. I use ‘Great’ because they do most of things in families; taking care of children, doing all the housework, farming for food…etc. Without their love, care and contributions, children won’t have adequate developing or educating opportunities. Most of these mothers never get an education, so they don’t understand why their children cannot live or act like neighbours’ children. Before they know the Young Athletes programme, they have no idea how to educate and help their children. I can imagine how many burdens and pressures Great mothers lift, and I really admire their strong minds and courage to move on.
I was the last one leave the centre accidentally and what was even more unexpected was the mothers hugging me with smiles, one by one on my way to leave. I can feel their appreciation for our visit, playing with the children and the toys we brought, though it is really a small thing we can do. I don’t think I was worthy to be appreciated this much, on the contrary, I actually appreciate them opening their lives, talking about their struggles, and letting their children play with me. I was humbled by the Great mothers.