Special Olympics opens doors for children in Thailand

Rebecca Ralston

We are excited to welcome a new group of IKEA co-workers—this time from IKEA Hong Kong—to visit our Special Olympics Young Athletes activities in Thailand for the IKEA Foundation IWitness Global Citizens Programme.

Now in the second year of our project, we have spent the last 18 months implementing sustainable Young Athletes programming thanks to the support of the IKEA Foundation’s Let’s Play for Change campaign. In our work in 2017, we have trained 12,061 coaches, registered 119,726 children with and without intellectual disabilities in YA activities, and supported 110,341 family members. Behind these numbers, we’ve had the amazing opportunity to positively impact the lives of children with intellectual disabilities and their families through play.

Thanks to the support of the IKEA Foundation, Special Olympics has been able to grow to new communities and impact the lives of new children with intellectual disabilities and their families in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Thailand. Our project has opened doors that have previously been closed to children with intellectual disabilities by bringing Young Athletes activities to over 10,000 communities across the four countries.

Photo by Special Olympics

Special Olympics Young Athletes is a sport and play programme for children with and without intellectual disabilities (ID), aged two to seven years. Young Athletes highlights the importance of play and includes a series of structured physical activities, songs and games. Through these play activities, children grow and develop valuable motor skills, like walking and running, while also enhancing their social and cognitive skills by interacting with their peers with and without intellectual disabilities. The opportunity for growth changes the family’s perception and leads to a more positive recognition of the value and worth of their child.

In Thailand, where almost 22% of people under 18 years old have a disability, the benefit of Young Athletes is critical and life-changing. In communities where children with intellectual disabilities and their families are often isolated, stigmatised or forgotten about, Young Athletes gives them hope.

Through the support from the IKEA Foundation, in 2017 our team in Thailand established a critical partnership with the Ministry of Education to implement Young Athletes activities in 75 of the 77 Special Education Centres across Thailand. This partnership allows Special Olympics Thailand to develop sustainable programmes that have the greatest opportunity to impact lives, change attitudes and support child development.

During the IWitness trip, IKEA Hong Kong co-workers will have the opportunity to visit two Special Education Centres in Samut Sakhorn and Khon Kaen. At the centres, they will see first-hand how Young Athletes plays a critical role in the development of children with intellectual disabilities and can be incorporated into each child’s individual education plan. The co-workers will not just observe, but will be teammates to our young children and join in the fun! At Special Olympics, everyone, regardless of ability, can join in the fun of sports and play.

The co-workers will also visit two families at home, to see how they are integrating Young Athletes and structured play activities into their daily lives. In Thailand, families play a critical role in implementing programme activities. As well as providing activities at the centres, Young Athletes also works with families to continue the fun and play at home. Special Olympics trains and educates families to help them better support their child’s development using play equipment made out of recycled materials. Doing activities at home helps foster stronger relationships between the child and their parents, siblings and extended family.

We cannot wait to meet the IKEA Hong Kong co-workers and welcome them into the Special Olympics family.

Photo by Special Olympics

Rebecca Ralston

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rebecca Ralston

I am Director, Young Athletes at Special Olympics International. In my work, I have the unique joy of supporting Special Olympics country programmes around the world to bring the power of play and inclusion to children with intellectual disabilities.

More posts by Rebecca Ralston

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