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July, 28, 2011: “All We Had to Do Was Run”: Sudanese youngsters win acclaim for their success at the Special Olympics

Iman with her Silver Medal for the 100 meter dash
© UNICEF Sudan/2011/Issraa El-Kogali
Iman with her Silver Medal for the 100 meter dash

By Issraa El-Kogali

Khartoum - Young Sudanese athletes who brought home medals from the June Special Olympics in Athens, Greece, have had their achievement recognized by the Government of Sudan.

Iman Salah, 12, and Hassan Mohammed, 15, were members of a four-strong Sudanese team that took part in the Special Olympics, the world's largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

“It was a wonderful experience,” said Hassan. “We were welcomed by so many people and felt proud to represent our country”.
 
The silver medals they won – Iman in the 100 metres dash and Hassan in the 200 metres -- were just reward for months of training.
 
“This great success proves the special talents that young Sudanese thought of as disabled are capable of, “said Nils Kastberg, UNICEF Representative, at a press conference following the Special Olympics team’s return from Greece.

“Children with special needs who used to be hidden from the world can achieve many things with their talents when given the chance to excel,” Mr Kastberg added.“Children with special needs who used to be hidden from the world can achieve many things with their talents when given the chance to excel,” Mr Kastberg added.
 
The youngsters’ achievement was recognized recently at a special ceremony held at the National Council for Children and Women. At the event, the Minister of Social Welfare, Amira Alfadil announced the award of grants of 2,000 SDG to Iman and Hassan as reward for their accomplishments.
 
Their fellow team members, 15-year-old Limya Bushra and 15-year-old Omer Farouk, will receive 1,000 SDG for competing in the games.

All four athletes attend Alrida Modern School in Khartoum’s Mugran area. Students from the school have participated in the bi-annual Special Olympics since 2007.  Training sessions on the school athletics grounds were supplemented by more intensive sessions at the Military Sports training facility and the Olympic Village, in south Khartoum.

Limya, Omer, Iman, Hassan with smiles and peace signs
(Left to Right) Limya, Omer, Iman, Hassan with smiles and peace signs

Sudan was one of 38 competing nations at the Athens Special Olympics. The fact that two out of four team members won medals is testimony to the potential of children with special needs, according to Hisham Abuelela, a businessman who established Sudan’s Special Olympics Committee in 2006.

“It is wonderful to see these kids blossom into successful athletes through the Special Olympics,” said Mr. Abuelela, “This opportunity allows them to develop a sense of pride and accomplishment that they might not have otherwise had.”

Mr Abuelela took Sudan’s first team of 22 people to the Special Olympics in Shanghai, China in 2007. Since then the Sudanese Special Olympics athletes have competed in Abu Dhabi in 2008 and in Idaho, USA in 2010 winning a number of medals.

For the Sudanese youngsters at the Athens Special Olympics, their first experience of overseas travel was almost as exciting as the opportunity to meet fellow athletes from all around the world and make new friends.

“When the plane started moving I was surprised by how fast it moved and all the noise of the engines,” said Limya. “I ducked my head down for cover!” she added, laughing.
“We knew we were good enough to compete with the others,” said Hassan. Omar added, “All we had to do was run, and leave the rest up to God” said Hassan.“All we had to do was run, and leave the rest up to God”.

Note: UNICEF has recently become involved in the issues of children with special abilities in Sudan and has begun by documenting the situation of such children so to develop a comprehensive programme to improve their situation. UNICEF is also supporting a hippotherapy centre (horse therapy) in Khartoum that provides services for over 120 children with special abilities.

 

 
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