The following post was written by Ana and Elena, two Special Olympics Youth Leaders from Romania. The pair make it their mission to strengthen inclusion in their community. Check out how they #innovateforinclusion!
Ana Baltag began her experience as a youth leader when she was invited to give a speech at an event organized by Special Olympics Romania to celebrate Special Olympics’ 50th anniversary. Elena, her sister and partner, was present to support her at the event. After her speech, Ana participated in the Global Youth Leadership Summit in Baku in 2018. There Ana learned how to be a part of the Unified Generation, the power of Unified Sports, and how to be a good leader.
Taking what she learned from the summit, Ana and Elena partnered to create an Innovation Project for their community. The two organized activities in two schools from Bucharest and 5th and 6th grade classes in Ion Barbu High School. Both of these schools participated in five lessons which aimed to change attitudes and create an inclusive environment.
In the first lesson students learned about stereotypes, appropriate language, and each other’s qualities.
The theme of the second lesson was “meet the determined and work together”. During this lesson four Youth Leaders presented their stories in front of other students and discussed the meaning of disabilities while focusing on their abilities. In return, the students made messages of encouragement for the youth leaders. In their message, one of the students said, “My dear Braves, I would like to tell you that you have recently become my friend and that you must continue what you are doing and not let anyone or anything to discourage you.” Another inspiring message said, “I’m glad we had the chance to meet you. I am also happy to have the opportunity to see different people who think differently but who are just as loving and ambitious. I wish you success further!”
For the third lesson, a psychologist was invited to talk to the students about how they can start the Inclusion Revolution. The discussion emphasized saying “no” to violence and how to cope with anxiety.
In the fourth lesson, seven determined athletes from the Summer World Games Delegation in Abu Dhabi were invited to speak in front of the students. After their introductions, the leaders were divided into teams to discuss their athletic life and abilities with the students. Then the students made posters to show their support for each athlete and leader.
The last lesson was a fun Unified Sports event. During this event, twenty-three Special Olympics athletes gave a demonstration to seventy 5th and 6th graders before playing Unified Sports together.
Even though the 8th grade class from I.G. Duca Secondary School organized only one lesson, it also had a great impact on the students. For this lesson a mentor from Special Olympics Romania moderated a discussion about how the students can build a better world where people do not judge one another by their appearances and stereotypes. The students learned how to appreciate the qualities and differences in the people the meet. They also had a chance to meet Nicusor, an athlete who joined the project as a new leader.
As a result of this project, we were able to teach ninety-three students without disabilities how to have an appropriate attitude towards individuals with intellectual disabilities. We were also able to empower twenty-three youth with intellectual disabilities as they acted as role models agents of change for their peers. For the adults, we offered training for twenty-eight teachers, school speech-therapists, and school counselors so they could learn more about Special Olympics and inclusive education.To celebrate the end of their project, Ana and Elena gathered more than one hundred participants with and without disabilities to celebrate Inclusion Week. Together they participated in workshops and then formed a human chain to illuminate the headquarters of the Romanian Olympic and Sporting Committee.
Inspired by their impact on their community, Ana and Elena are already working on their next project as they continue to lead their Unified Generation!
The 2018–2019 Special Olympics Youth Innovation Grant initiative is supported through partnerships with Hasbro, Inc., The Samuel Family Foundation, the Office of Special Education Programs at the United States Department of Education, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the Kantar Group, the Microsoft Corporation, Lane Global Youth Leadership, and the Lions Clubs International Foundation. Learn more about these inspiring projects at SpecialOlympicsGlobalYouthProjects.org.