|© UNICEF Romania/2009|
|Special Olympics athlete and volunteer from the Faculty of Sports and Physical Education during the FUNfitness programme supported by UNICEF in Cluj, Romania.|
CLUJ, Romania, 27 April 2009 – Special Olympics and UNICEF have joined forces in Romania to build inclusive communities for children with intellectual disabilities. Most recently, the Sport and Physical Education faculty of Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj organized an event for children both with and without intellectual disabilities, featuring Special Olympics Unified Sports, 'Young Athletes' and 'Healthy Athletes' activities.
The event was part of a wider, global partnership between Special Olympics and UNICEF dedicated to changing negative attitudes towards children with disabilities, promoting policies for their inclusion and empowering them and their families.
“We are committed to the partnership with Special Olympics Romania, which creates opportunities for children with disabilities and their families to participate in society. This is very much in the spirit of the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” said UNICEF Romania Child Protection Officer Voichita Pop.
Forming friendships and changing attitudes
Special Olympics Unified Sports is an initiative that combines approximately equal numbers of athletes with and without intellectual disabilities on sports teams for training and competition. Unified Sports enables participants to learn new sports, experience meaningful inclusion (each athlete is assured of playing a valued role on the team) and socialize with peers and form friendships.
Special Olympics Unified Sports activities are providing a truly inclusive experience for children – with and without intellectual disabilities – in Cluj, and changing attitudes in the process.
Designed for children aged two through seven with intellectual disabilities, the Young Athletes programme aims to build motor and social skills, and supports cognitive development through play activities. The programme also provides a support system for parents of children with intellectual disabilities by bringing them together to network and share experiences.
Expanding the programme
Twenty parents attended the event in Cluj. They were encouraged to consider how to expand the Young Athletes programme throughout Romania.
“Thanks to the Young Athletes programme, my son became more aware of his body and the world around him – of shapes, colors and movements. He learned to interact and play with other children. It also gave me the chance to meet other parents and helped raise my own expectations about what my son can do,” commented one parent.
Thanks to the generous support of volunteer clinical professionals in Romania, in addition to sport activities, some 50 children received free health screenings in vision (15 received corrective eyeglasses) and oral health and physical therapy (of which 42 received instructions for corrective physical exercises) through the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes Programme.