The following post was written by Bulgan and Elbegzaya, two Special Olympics youth leaders from Mongolia. The pair make it their mission to strengthen inclusion in their community. Check out how they #innovateforinclusion!
Elbegzaya and I came up with the idea for the project when a mother of a 20 year old athlete with intellectual disabilities came to Special Olympics Mongolia to discuss about what program he could join. Like many athletes, he had trouble finding a daily routine and outside of the home after graduating secondary school. Although our initial idea was to include local university students in a unified program, we concluded it would be best if only athletes with intellectual disabilities participated. We discussed this idea with mentors, teachers, and directors and we decided that it was better to focus on quality rather than quantity.
The project started after New Years on January 12th, 2019. The main goal of this program was to promote inclusion in our community by bringing together youth leaders with and without intellectual disabilities so they could learn life skills together. Throughout the project the youth leaders fostered inclusive partnerships with a local university, state and international organizations, and non-government organizations. The group of 14 athletes, ages 17–28, attended 11 consecutive classes to learn different life skills, including advocacy, creativity, and how to do everyday tasks that are essential to living as independent adults in society.
We started the program off with a class called “Let’s learn how to introduce ourselves”. In this class they played games where they got to know each other by asking a question they wished from anyone in the room, it was a very good lesson. Although it was their first time together, the students were not shy to share their stories, talk about their hobbies, sing, and play together. The program continued with classes about self-expression through art and words, reading and explaining, cooking, crafts, safety procedures in the home and in the streets, employment, and finally dance class to finish it off in Special Olympics style!
Until May 17th, a total of 14 athletes who graduated from their secondary schools joined together for 11 sessions of creativity and fun. Shy peers who did not know each other at the beginning ended up becoming good friends by helping each other, sharing their ideas, enjoying each activity, and gaining so much confidence, independence, and social inclusion. Elbegzaya especially mentioned how she practiced her leadership skills in the 5 month program and how she could not be happier about her accomplishments as the group leader. She even taught the origami and paper art session by herself.
Many organizations, from public to private sectors accepted our request to work together and help Special Olympics Mongolia athletes experience things they have never done before and gain new knowledge and skills. The project has been a great opportunity to raise awareness in our community and change the attitude towards people with intellectual disabilities. Our Youth Innovation Grant initiated by Elbegzaya and Bulgan has engaged more than 300 community members and students.
We would like to thank Special Olympics Mongolia, Special Olympics East Asia, and Special Olympics International for giving us this opportunity along with the many clubs, organizations, and individuals who have put in their time and effort to make this program possible.
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.