“Let’s Play Together”
On June 1, 2017 the Children’s Paralympic Committee with the Support of UNICEF organized a special event to demonstrate how children with disabilities can be integrated into society through the power of sport.
Windy conditions did not disrupt the fun being had at UNICEF and the National Paralympic Committee for Azerbaijan’s joint event to celebrate Children’s Protection Day on Thursday, June 1, 2017. Held on Baku’s boulevard along the Caspian Sea, the event encouraged children with or without disabilities to play together. Attendees participated in games of basketball, boccia, and table tennis while enjoying entertainment from a DJ and a bubble show.
Malahat Salimova brought her son Farid, who has down’s syndrome, to the event. Farid is a sixteen-year-old with a big interest in sports, especially football and basketball, for which he earned a gold medal this past year. As a mother, Malahat believes that encouraging all children to play together, regardless of disability, is very important. Farid was excited to play with the other children at the event, but for him and other children living with disabilities, Malahat explained, it can sometimes be hard to understand social interactions, thus making it difficult for them to integrate well with other children. “Sport is one thing they can be involved in and feel good about,” she said. ”In other countries abroad it’s more developed the way the kids are integrated and play together. Here, it’s ok, but it needs improvement. That’s why these events are good.” Grandfather Maharram Sadikhov brought his 10-year-old grandson Maharram to participate in the event. Maharram Sr. said he supports children with disabilities and believes events like these are important for integrating all types of youth. When asked, Maharram Jr., said he “likes playing with kids with disabilities.”
“By bringing children together, sport promotes the inclusion of boys and girls who are often left out,” explains UNICEF Representative in Azerbaijan, Mr. Edward Carwardine. The event’s goal, he said, “is bringing kids with disabilities and kids without disabilities together; demonstrating that if you give youngsters the right opportunity and the right chance, regardless of whether they have a disability or not, they can still take part in regular activities.” According to him, the event offers a chance to highlight and recognize the talent the children have while also breaking down misconceptions able-bodied children may have about disabled children.
UNICEF in Azerbaijan partners with a range of organizations to ensure greater access to and better opportunities for children and adolescents with disabilities. Opportunities for people with disabilities to engage in sports, let alone to compete internationally in the Paralympic Games, were almost un-thought of in Azerbaijan a decade ago.
UNICEF has a longstanding partnership with the National Paralympic Committee. As a result of this partnership, the Children’s Paralympic Committee was created, the first such committee of it’s kind in the world. The Children’s Paralympic Committee works to improve access to sports and recreation for children with disabilities both in the quantity of children participating in sports and in the range of activities offered.
Ilham Zekiyev, the judoka paralympian two-time World Champion and newly elected Vice President for the National Paralympic Committee, made a special appearance at the event. He explained that when he first started, he was the first paralympian in judoka. Because of the creation of the National Paralympic Committee for Azerbaijan, Zekiyev said, “now it is easier for those who start this journey”.
Ilgar Rahimov, President of the Paralympics Committee, saw the event as a success in offering people the chance to learn about his organization and their partnership with UNICEF. Rahimov described his organization’s goals and objectives, which include the integration of disabled children into society. Rahimov firmly believes events like these are essential in encouraging that integration between all children, “our job is to create a society where integration and development are top priorities, and I can say with confidence, in Azerbaijan we have that.”
But achieving integration is partly the parent or guardian’s responsibility, explained Dilara Safguliyeva, who brought her 11-year-old daughter Fidan Safguliyeva to the event. Dilara thinks the event was a good opportunity for children to play and bond, “otherwise children with disabilities are alienated in the society, it depends a lot on the parent because we decide to bring them here.” Encouragement from other adults in a child’s life is also key for the successful integration of all children. “My teacher encouraged us to come,” said Fidan, who has cerebral palsy and is on the paralympic team with a silver medal in boccia. This is the first event encouraging play between children that Fidan has attended, but after today, she said, “I want to participate in these types of events more.”