Special Olympics Bharat announced a new impetus to their nationwide implementation of one of the largest initiatives for inclusion in education for young people with and without intellectual disabilities – made possible by a grant received from His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces.
The 4-year project will play a critical role in making the Indian education system more inclusive by creating 120 Unified Champion Schools across 12 states.
The initiative that encourages activation and empowerment of the youth resonated with the theme of the International Youth Day 2020, “Youth Engagement for Global Action” by empowering young people with and without intellectual disabilities to create lasting social change through inclusion in education.
Young People with intellectual disabilities are among those most underserved by education systems globally. Of the 65 million primary-school-age children who are out of school around the world, nearly half have disabilities. Even of those students that do achieve access, some estimate that less than 5% of children with disabilities complete school.
Building on over a decade of success of Unified Champion Schools (UCS) in the United States and growing impact in more than fifty other countries around the world, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan has committed $25 million on behalf of the people of the UAE in order to expand this initiative to six countries – Argentina, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Romania, and Rwanda. Special Olympics Bharat will lead to the growth of UCS in India, empowering young leaders to create lasting social change through inclusion in education for people with and without intellectual disabilities.
Speaking on the occasion, HE the Ambassador of UAE, said, “UAE as the beacon of diversity and tolerance, has emerged as one of the leading countries to support the creation of a just and equitable society for people with special needs or ‘people of determination’. Recently, under the directives of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, the UAE pledged US$25 million to help fund the global expansion of the inclusive education project; Unified Champion Schools (UCS), an initiative undertaken by the Special Olympics that will root the values of tolerance and inclusion in educational systems around the world.”
In addition to His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s gift, the UAE has committed to bringing UCS programming to all of its public schools in the coming years, making the UAE the world’s only country to make such a commitment at the national level. The accelerated growth of this grassroots initiative within the UAE and around the world will further establish the legacy of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, the first Special Olympics World Games hosted in the Middle East and North Africa region, and have a lasting, positive impact on UAE society.
“The Special Olympics movement is being led by young leaders with and without intellectual disabilities who are emerging as the world’s greatest teachers of empathy, dignity, courage, and inclusion,” said Dr. Timothy Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics International. “As we search for a more just and joyful future, we are trusting our hopes to young inclusive leaders who see beyond division and fear and show us how to heal and unite. I am deeply grateful that His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan has made an extraordinary commitment to our athletes and their Unified partners in Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools®. His vision and generosity will empower young people around the world to break down barriers caused by injustice and intolerance, end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities, and establish inclusive cultures where every human being is respected, valued and welcomed”.
The announcement of the grant was made at a virtual event, graced by His Excellency, the Ambassador of the UAE to India Dr Ahmed Abdul Rahman Albanna. Other attendees included President and Managing Director of Special Olympics Asia Pacific Region Mr Dipak Natali, Founder and CEO of Special Olympics Bharat Air Marshal Keelor, Chairman of Special Olympics Bharat Mr Satish Pillai, Chairperson of Special Olympics Pakistan Ms Raunak Lakhani, Dean of Physical Education Department of Amity University Dr Kalpana Sharma and General Secretary of Special Olympics Bharat Dr Amitav Mishra.