Experiencing the world of Young Athletes in Thailand – one child at a time

Hello IKEA Foundation blog readers! My name is Joe and I’m both honoured and excited to be welcoming co-workers from IKEA Australia to Thailand next week. I’m looking forward to showcasing the beauty and excitement of our Young Athletes programming, and introducing the team to the unique way that sport and play can have a life-changing impact on children with intellectual disabilities (ID), their families and their broader communities.

Special Olympics is a proud partner of IKEA Foundation’s Let’s Play for Change campaign, which supports organisations that help children play, develop and grow. As a partner, our sole focus is providing opportunities for children with and without ID to play together and learn from one another, providing a strong foundation for sports skills and basic motor activities while also encouraging inclusion at home, in school and beyond.

Young Athletes (YA) is designed to reach children aged from two to seven, and promotes the importance of play through a series of structured physical activities, songs and games. YA is also dedicated to family participation, and helps increase families’ perceptions and expectations as a direct result of having a child with ID participate in the programme.

Since our Let’s Play for Change partnership kicked off in 2017, we’ve trained 12,061 coaches, registered 119,726 children with and without intellectual disabilities in YA activities, and supported over 110,341 family members—and we’re still going strong! Together with the IKEA Foundation, our goal is to include 350,000 children in Young Athletes activities, and create over 5,000 socially inclusive communities that foster the development and growth of children with ID. It’s a tall order but together we can make these goals a reality.

In Thailand, the need for inclusive play opportunities is urgent. It is estimated that 22% of people here under 18 years old have a disability—meaning there are millions of children with ID that might not have the proper support to develop basic skills like running, jumping and throwing if we don’t offer opportunities like YA as a part of early childhood development interventions.

In the coming week I’m so excited to share the world of Special Olympics Young Athletes with the co-workers from IKEA Australia. We’ll be visiting Special Education Centres in Chiang Mai and Lamphun, located in two of Thailand’s Northern provinces. Each Centre will showcase their approach to empowering children with (and without) intellectual disabilities through Young Athletes programming, while also demonstrating the impact the programme has on local family members.

At Special Olympics we believe that true inclusion happens when children of all abilities are given the opportunity to interact and play together from a young age. Through YA we strive to offer these opportunities to all children whenever possible.

The two sites will provide co-workers with the chance to see YA implementation in two different settings: the urban setting of Chiang Mai and the rural landscape of Lamphun province. We’re also looking forward to spending time with a family in Lamphun and will have an opportunity to speak with them about raising a child with a disability. The co-workers will also see how YA activities can be done at home and how it’s something the whole family can participate in. It is my hope that we not only learn a lot during our trip but have a little fun as well! Meeting a family in this way and interacting with them in their home environment is the perfect way to accomplish both.

We’re sincerely looking forward to welcoming the IKEA Australia co-workers to Thailand and gearing up for what will no doubt be a trip to remember!

    Joe Hergert