The following post was written by Yanbing and Shenlei, two Special Olympics Youth Leaders from China. The pair make it their mission to strengthen inclusion in their community. Check out how they #innovateforinclusion!
I came up with the idea of my Innovation Grant project as I transferred to an international school in 11th grade. It was a newly established school located in Changshu, a small city in Jiangsu province. Although it is close to Shanghai, unlike Shanghai which takes the lead in Special Olympics unified programs in China, Jiangsu province has almost no Unified programs. Children with intellectual disabilities are educated in separate schools than children without. Also, the professional skills cultivation and social integration of people with intellectual disabilities are not well developed, leaving many children unable to find jobs at home. (I learned this information when I communicated with the Changshu local government.) Therefore, my hope is to convert my new school into a Unified school. By doing this, I hope UWC Changshu can take the lead in the Jiangsu area and encourage more schools to join the Special Olympics movement with its actions and reputation.
So the first step of my plan is to promote the notion of Special Olympics within my school, in order to spread awareness and lay down the foundation for future recruitment. In April 2019, I invited Freda Fung, Daisy Cao, and Farrah Chang to my school to do a whole-school speech, introducing the history and status quo of Special Olympics. The reaction was very well and responsive — about a dozen students directly indicated their interest to join and participate in the Unified activities. And after a round of interview selection, I gathered 10 core team members before the summer holiday to help start off Special Olympics in UWC Changshu.
The major challenge comes during the summer holiday. We tried to contact our target local special education school — through both messaging and calling the headmaster and the administrative teachers — but the reply was very slow and the communication was not very effective. We then decided to directly visit the special education school by September. After we tried to make an appointment the third time and still failed to reach an agreement we realized that maybe this school might not be a perfect fit for us. As a newly established program, we also hope that we can match with a special education school that is enthusiastic about joining Special Olympics. Therefore, we then slowed down the process of directly contacting the school but turned our focus to contacting the local government.
The local government is very helpful and active in our communication. By November we decided together that our first Unified activity was about social integration. The government then gave us a list of children with intellectual disabilities who have not found jobs, asking our volunteers to pair up with them, help them find jobs, and thus better integrate into society. Eight pairs were then allocated. They were expected to visit their partners twice a month, talk to them, and advise them. The rest of volunteers were expected to be in charge of recording with photos and videos. Our volunteers were asked to read the files about their partners during the Christmas break in order to get fully prepared for the unified activity starting after the break. Unexpectedly, however, we were not able to go back on campus since then due to COVID-19, which postpones our activity progress a lot. This is another major challenge for us, but apparently we are unable to make any difference in light of the virus. So hopefully we’ll see the first activity taken place after the virus is gone and our students are allowed to go back on campus.
As for the Unified floorball studio in Shanghai (which has already been held for a year and a half), it went well as usual before September, with weekly training in the special education school and occasional regional competitions. Around 20 volunteers were involved. They were separated into two groups, each group going for a week. And the athletes participating were around 8–12 children. But very unfortunately, we were informed that the school, including the court we used, had started renovation from summer holiday and would continue until winter. So we halted the Unified studio from September, and then COVID-19 struck our country on top of this, thus extending this suspension. We sincerely hope that everything can be back soon.
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.