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Zambia, 9 January 2017: The power of inclusive sport

As UNICEF Zambia celebrates its 70th anniversary

© UNICEF Zambia/2016/Mwananshiku
Children participating in Unified games

 
Recreation and leisure activities are a critical dimension of the quality of life for all people, including those with developmental disabilities. Not only does sport improve physical health but it also teaches accountability, dedication, and leadership. Sports are a vehicle through which people have fun, meet new friends, and develop skills and competencies.

In the recent past, an increased number of civil service agencies have placed great emphasis on the support provided to children and adults with disabilities in a wide range of community recreation/leisure activities and settings, on an individualized basis. At the same time, more community organizations have opened their doors, in inclusive and supportive ways, to people living with disabilities.

On December 3rd, 2016, UNICEF and Special Olympics Zambia hosted a Unified Sports Day for children with and without intellectual disabilities who participated in mixed sports activities. The event highlighted the power of inclusive sports as an effective development tool.

Speaking at the event, UNICEF’s Country Representative, Dr. Hamid El-Bashir Ibrahim, emphasized that there is need to gather much needed attention to children living with disabilities and their families. He said, “Every child must have a fair chance in life and with the goal of ensuring that all children are afforded the benefits of increased human, social and economic development. UNICEF and Special Olympics have effectively utilized a development through a sporting platform to usher in a new era of social protection for the most marginalized population segment in the world today.”

The event was held at the Olympic Youth Development Centre, Great North Road, Lusaka and included sports activities like athletics, soccer, bocce (similar to bowls) and other fun and games. The guest of honour for the event was the First Lady of the Republic of Zambia, Mrs. Esther Lungu. Mrs. Lungu took part in all the games together with 150 young athletes between the ages of 2 and 18 years old. An average of 100 parents of children with intellectual disabilities participated in the Family Health Forum, where Special Olympics and Lions Club shared best practices with families on how to look after children with intellectual disabilities. Health and education services were also offered such as eye and health screening.

© UNICEF Zambia/2016/Mwananshiku
UNICEF Country Representative, Dr. Hamid El-Bashir Ibrahim, speaking at the event.

 
The event which fell on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, was designed to draw much needed attention to the rights of children with disabilities, and their families, by promoting the tenants of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN-CRC), as well as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN-CRPD). This gave UNICEF an opportunity to show that children with special needs can live happy productive lives and remove the stereotypes attached to them.

Mrs. Lungu expressed that children living with disabilities have their rights violated. She said, “All across the world children disabilities are discriminated against, denied access to education, abused and forced into servitude. They have poor health outcomes, lower education achievements, less economic participation and higher rates of poverty than children without disabilities.” She went on to add that, “It is the responsibility of the Government of the Republic of Zambia, development partners, civil society and communities to ensure that the barriers that are experienced by people with disabilities are removed. We need to ensure that adequate policies are in place so that they have access to services that many of us have long taken for granted.”

The First Lady gave each athlete one hundred Zambian Kwacha (ZMW100) as a token of appreciation for having the courage to participate. The young athletes’ representative, Violet Banda, thanked UNICEF and Special Olympics. She said, “I want to thank UNICEF and Special Olympics for organizing this event for us. I believe this will encourage other children with special needs to participate in sports activities in their community.” Violet further urged parents to support their children, “Parents, I encourage you not to keep children with special needs indoors. Register them with Special Olympics and they will be helped and become better independent citizens.”

And Special Olympics Vice Chairman, Clement Chileshe, said activities that promote inclusive play and sports are important tools to improve children’s lives.

Mr. Chileshe said, “Sport and play can be valuable tools to promote health and prevent disease, form social bonds and interaction, improve physical abilities, foster family support, facilitate learning and importantly, promote inclusion.”

The Unified Sports event was also attended by the Area Member of Parliament, Lloyd Kaziya; UNICEF National Ambassador; World Boxing Council (WBC) Female Bantum Weight Champion, Catherine Phiri and Zambian female musician Mampi.

Meanwhile Acting President and Managing Director, Special Olympics Europe-Eurasia, David Evangelista thanked UNICEF Zambia for the tremendous support towards the Athletes and family members. Evangelista said, “From all accounts, it was a great expression of unity, partnership and equity for some of the most marginalized children in our community. Special Olympics is honored to be chosen as a partner of UNICEF to celebrate this important International Day of Disability.”

He also announced that on November 30th, Special Olympics and UNICEF renewed their partnership and signed a 5 year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

“Special Olympics is equally honored to have renewed a 5-year Memorandum of Understanding agreement with UNICEF, that brings forth a renewed global framework and commitment between both of our organizations. It is so exciting to see this collaboration take root, and we stand ready to do all we can to create a sustained partnership in Zambia on behalf of children of all abilities.”

UNICEF and Special Olympics have been working together since 2007 to protect and uphold the rights of children with disabilities, as well as change perceptions and promote social inclusion. Reflecting a shared commitment to children with intellectual disabilities, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) as well as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the two partners formalized a global Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 2011 at the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece; it underscores the organizations’ shared goal of empowering children with disabilities.

The partnership was created to advance the rights and abilities of children with intellectual disabilities, and leverage the 70th Anniversary of UNICEF to bring increased attention to the plight facing the special needs population. This partnership offers the national media, public and private sector a chance to directly engage in the program.

 

 
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