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Equity in Action – Global UNICEF partner Special Olympics report on visit to Malawi

© UNICEF Malawi
Special Olympics athlete shows off his football skills.

Lilongwe, Malawi. June 2013. “This is a population that has gone without for far too long,” proclaimed HE President Joyce Banda of the Republic of Malawi.  “It is our obligation to expose injustice and right what is wrong.  An inclusionary approach is essential to sustainable development, which must be development for all.” These words served as part of HE President Banda’s keynote address at the 2013 Special Olympics Global Development Summit in Pyeongchang, Korea.  Read HE Banda’s entire remarks.

In Malawi, President Banda has taken these declarations and enshrined them into policy. 

In her first 100 days, HE President Banda passed the Malawi Disability Act, which signs into law the rights and protections of people with disabilities in the country.  In addition, the Republic of Malawi has created a dedicated ministry to oversee the implementation of this Act- the Ministry of Disability and Elderly Affairs.  Most importantly, with the creation of both the Act and the ministry, the Republic of Malawi has worked to ensure full implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, which it ratified on 27 August 2009. 

As part of her historic keynote at the Global Development Summit, HE President Banda has committed to forming a national partnership between the government and Special Olympics Malawi, one of the most innovative national programs, boasting of over 5,000 active athletes.    “I commit to forming a national partnership with the Special Olympics committee in Malawi, and the development community, to further integrate this population into existing and future development strategies.  I commit to empowering my ministries to work hand-in-hand with Special Olympics and the Malawian disability community in strengthening our structures, our strategies and our programming,” said HE President Banda. 

In May 2013, Special Olympics and a formal ministerial delegation visited two Special Olympics program sites to observe Special Olympics Malawi early childhood development and inclusive sports programming in action.  With the support of the Local Education Authority (LEA) of Lilongwe and the remote town of Salima, the delegation was able to see first-hand the exciting reach of Special Olympics Malawi, as well as meet the coaches and families that are instrumental to the program’s continuity.  “We are deeply impressed,” said Fletcher E. Y. Zenengeya, Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Disability and Elderly Affairs.  “We are ready to do the needful to ensure that this partnership is strong, and sustained for many years to come.” 

Expanded Programming

In 2012, Malawi was named one of the very first Special Olympics Healthy Communities, in recognition of its outstanding work with the Special Olympics global health program Healthy Athletes.

In April, volunteer health care providers braved rainstorms and other challenges to reach Special Olympics athletes in eight remote villages and provide direct health services and family education. Some of the athletes had never visited a clinical doctor before! Special Olympics Malawi’s innovation includes adoption of the UNICEF-sanctioned WASH curriculum (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) for children in a number of communities throughout the country, the creation of an athlete-led vegetable garden to offer a sustained source of healthy food, and a national campaign to offer direct family health education through the Special Olympics Family Health Forum model. 

© UNICEF Malawi
Students gets eye-to-ball practice with Special Olympics instructor at Lilongwe Primary School.

The Special Olympics Youth Athletes program recently expanded its reach as well. Previously offered only in the central region of Malawi, volunteers this year have pushed out into the northern region and plan to offer events in the southern part of the country in the future. Currently, more than 400 young athletes and 500 family members participate.

Thanks to support from Special Olympics International, Special Olympics Malawi has also expanded its sports programming in the last couple of years – more than doubling the number of involved family members, tripling the number of local competitions, introducing a third sport (basketball), and training 24 athletes in the Athlete Leadership Program.

Partnerships make it Possible

Malawi has limited resources and infrastructure for individuals with disabilities, making partnerships with other organizations critical to the success of Special Olympics. Lions Clubs International is a long-time global supporter, and made history in May by forming the first-ever national partnership agreement in Africa with Special Olympics Malawi. Lions Clubs of Malawi has committed to providing follow up eye health services through hospitals in Lilongwe and Blantyre as an extension of Opening Eyes, volunteers for events nationwide, and support for Family Health Forums as part of a shared commitment to family outreach.

UNICEF Malawi works closely with Special Olympics in Malawi, in providing key access to government ministries, support in research and data collection, and overall advice on effective designs for program delivery.  In addition, UNICEF Malawi continues to serve as the reference point around disability and development in Malawi, assisting Special Olympics and many other NGOs with strategies to strengthen civil society, build greater public awareness, and align all programming with the equity platform of serving the most marginalized – first.  In May 2013, UNICEF and Special Olympics, together with the national government of the Republic of Malawi and the Malawi disability community, will team up in launching the much-anticipated UNICEF State of the World’s Children Report, the UN agency’s flagship publication, focused on the plight facing children with disabilities.

UNICEF and Special Olympics will also be joining forces, in partnership with the government, in the creation of the first ever African Leaders Forum on Intellectual Disabilities, to be hosted by HE President Banda in Lilongwe- as part of the historic commitments made by the Republic of Malawi at the 2013 Special Olympics Global Development Summit.  While facing significant challenges in Malawi and throughout the world, children and adults with intellectual disabilities in the country are looking toward a brighter future.  “Change will take political will, and in my country, that starts with me,” said HE President Banda in Korea.




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