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Special Olympics: Tackling exclusion through sports

© UNICEF/2009/Prabowo
Juliwati Japi listens to her trainer as she prepares for the national Special Olympic Games in June.

Indonesia is holding the National Games for children with intellectual disabilities on 26-30 June, 2010.

By Regi Wirawan

JAKARTA, 25 June 2010 – The sun is just rising on the Velodroom Stadium in Rawamangun, East Jakarta, when 16-year-old Juliwati Japi arrives for a regular training session held by Special Olympics Indonesia.  Juli, as she is known, joined the organization in 2004, two years after she moved to Jakarta from her home city of Sampit, Central Kalimantan.

Like all of the athletes here, Juli 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, she has participated in many international sports events – her biggest achievement being when she ran in fourth place in athletics at the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai, China.

Juli, who has almost never skipped her Saturday training routine, was most excited that day according to Iih, her aunt and chaperone.

“She is wearing the official jersey of Special Olympics Indonesia that she wore at the Shanghai Olympic Games, because she was told that today she would meet with a real champion,” Iih explains. She is referring to Marcos Diaz - a world ultra distance swimmer from the Dominican Republic, who is scheduled to visit the training session today to meet and talk with the young athletes of Special Olympics Indonesia.

© UNICEF/2009/Diaz
Ultralong distance swimming champion Marcos Diaz helps raise the spirits of the Special Olympic Indonesia atheletes at a recent visit.

When Diaz, who holds the World Record for swimming twice the length of the Gibraltar Straits, arrives at the training ground, Juli is sitting on a tribune in one corner of the stadium with all of her fellow young athletes and their parents and chaperones. A big smile crosses her face when Diaz starts talking – clearly she is a huge admirer.

Diaz shares with the children how he used to suffer from a chronic asthma in his early years, but that he has overcome it since he became a swimmer.

“I encourage you to keep on training, because sports help you to make you strong and confident,“ he tells the youngsters.
Diaz, who is also a trainer for Special Olympics children in his country, adds, “There are many children out there don’t have the opportunity to develop their potential. You are lucky being with the Special Olympics, who can help provide that opportunity.”

Special Olympics Indonesia is a nonprofit and nongovernment organisation, accredited by the global Special Olympics organization that targets almost 200 million people with intellectual disabilities around the world through sport activities. Indonesia became the 79th member of the Special Olympics in 1989, and now organizes a National Special Olympics Games for Indonesian children every four years, normally one year ahead of the World Special Olympics Games.

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.

“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,” explains UNICEF Representative 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 – and these young athletes themselves are role models to us all.”

Juli has also been inspired by her own role model, Diaz. After talking and taking pictures with her champion, her aunts recounts how Juli  aspired to be like the swimmer.

“Juli has been preparing herself to compete in the National Special Olympics Games,” says Iih, as she goes onto explain how the young woman will compete in running and swimming in the National Games, to be staged in Jakarta from 26 – 30 June 2010.

Given her determination to excel, Diaz might be forgiven for worrying at the potential competition.



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