|Juliwati Japi listens to her trainer during preparations for the National Special Olympics Games in Indonesia.|
By Regi Wirawan
JAKARTA, Indonesia, 14 June 2010 – The sun was just rising over a Jakarta sports stadium one recent morning when Juliwati Japi, 16, arrived for her regular training session, organized by Special Olympics Indonesia.
Juli, as she is known, has almost never skipped her Saturday training routine. But she was especially excited to arrive on the day she would be meeting Marcos Diaz, a world-champion ultra-distance swimmer from the Dominican Republic. He was scheduled to visit the training session to meet and talk with the young athletes of Special Olympics Indonesia.
Juli joined the programme in 2004 and, like all of the athletes here, is a child with intellectual disabilities. She was born with Down’s Syndrome, a condition in which extra genetic material causes delays in the way a child develops both mentally and physically.
Despite the challenges of her disability, Juli has participated in many international sports events – including the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai, China, where she placed fourth in athletics.
‘Keep on training’
When Mr. Diaz arrived at the training session, a big smile crossed Juli’s face – it was clear that she is a huge admirer – and he told the children how he used to suffer from a chronic asthma in his early years but has overcome it since he became a swimmer.
|© UNICEF/2010/ Prabowo|
|Ultra-distance swimming champion Marcos Diaz (centre-right) with Special Olympics Indonesia athletes during a recent visit to a training session for the national games.|
“I encourage you to keep on training, because sports help you to make you strong and confident,” he said.
Mr. Diaz, who is also a trainer for Special Olympics children in his country, added: “There are many children out there don’t have the opportunity to develop their potential. You are lucky to be with the Special Olympics, who can help provide that opportunity.”
Importance of inclusion
Special Olympics Indonesia is a non-governmental organization accredited by Special Olympics International, which targets almost 200 million people with intellectual disabilities through sport activities worldwide. Indonesia became the 79th member of the Special Olympics in 1989 and now organizes a National Special Olympics Games every four years, normally one year ahead of the global games.
The next National Special Olympic Games are slated to be held in Jakarta from 26 through 30 June.
This year, UNICEF Indonesia has partnered with Special Olympics Indonesia to help promote the importance of inclusion for children, regardless of their circumstances. Social and economic exclusion are major barriers to development for millions of Indonesian children in areas such as education, health and protection.
‘Role models to us all’
“Disparities in Indonesia are a critical challenge that we need to address if Indonesia is to move closer to achieving the Millennium Development Goals – and if we are to ensure that every child benefits from the incredible economic progress that the country has enjoyed in recent years,” said UNICEF Representative in Indonesia Angela Kearney.
“Special Olympics Indonesia is demonstrating in a very tangible way just how much Indonesian children can achieve when provided with equality of opportunity, free of stigma or exclusion,” she noted. “These young athletes themselves are role models to us all.”
Juli has also been inspired by her own new role model, Mr. Diaz, the champion swimmer. She has been training hard for the upcoming National Special Olympics Games, where she will compete in running and swimming.
Given her determination to excel, Mr. Diaz might be forgiven for worrying about the potential competition.