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Special Olympics: A new lease of life for those with intellectual disabilities


Special Olympics: A new lease of life for those with intellectual disabilities

What began as a social integration initiative for individuals with intellectual disabilities has now snowballed into a programme that empowers them to be a celebrated group. The programme provides basic physical education by the Rural Development Trust's (RDT) Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) team for RDT’s special schools in and around Anantapur, India.

The programme began in July 2010 when Special Olympics Bharat approached RDT with the aim to introduce competitive sport to children with intellectual disabilities. They encouraged these children to come out to play sport and receive basic education, so as to give them an opportunity to interact with other youth. RDT’s teachers also received specialised training in educating intellectually disabled children. To encourage these kids to take up competitive sport, RDT initially found three talented athletes; this number then went up to 10 athletes in 2011, and now as many as 34 athletes have joined the programme because of the success and interest the initial athletes generated. 

RDT continued their programme to train and educate these athletes with essential life skills, such as how to effectively use money, how to tell the time, and communicating in the local language. In November 2014, RDT began to provide these athletes with additional vocational training in various fields including carpentry, jute work, gardening and cooking.

Two of the three athletes from RDT’s first intake went on to represent Special Olympics Bharat at the 2011 Special Olympics World Games in Athens. This pivotal point in their lives had a profound effect on them. When Sheikh Fakrunnisha (Baba) and Kappala Revathi came back with Olympic medals they were treated as celebrities and were an inspiration to younger athletes. Their world, as they saw it, changed totally, they began to be recognised because of their success by the same people who once rejected them. The girls were then offered the opportunity to train and work with the Special Olympic's teams to mentor other athletes. Baba took up this role at RDT’s Bathalapalli Development Centre and is working as an assistant coach at the programme.

The 34 athletes that currently train under the programme are constantly nurtured with the help of volunteers. 13 of these athletes will represent India at the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles. The people in their villages now consider them to be top sporting icons which has increased the athlete’s self-confidence. Some of these athletes have already been offered assistant coaching roles at the Bathalapalli Development Centre so that their personal development will continue, even after their athletic careers have ended.
[This article has been edited by the Operating Team]


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Maxon Sequeira


Sunday, July 12, 2015 - 23:00