Join the INCLUSION revolution in India!

IKEA Japan, together with IKEA Canada, got the possibility to witness first-hand how inclusive communities are built in Kolkata and Birbhum, funded by the Let’s Play for Change campaign. During our time in India we visited multiple school, community and home-based sites.

The Let’s Play for Change campaign has children’s right to play and develop at its heart. Funding from the IKEA Foundation is supporting the growth of Young Athletes in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thailand and India

Meeting Young Athletes at a local play clinic. By Marcio Saiki.

Special Olympics Young Athletes is a sport and play programme for children with and without intellectual disabilities (ID), aged two to seven. Young Athletes introduces basic sport skills, like running, kicking and throwing. The IKEA Foundation supports this programme with play kits containing equipment like balls, parachutes and hurdles. Children learn to share, take turns and follow directions. These skills help children in family, community and school activities and can transform their lives. The Young Athletes programme is meant to be long-term and sustainable.

Adrija at home with her younger twin sisters. By Marcio Saiki.

During our first home visit, in the locality Bhedia, we met an eight-year-old girl, Adrija, with Downs syndrome. The community has had mixed reactions, but Adrija’s family has always accepted her and tried to make her feel as normal and comfortable as possible. She joined the Young Athletes programme two years ago. Her mother said that at first Adrija did not want to go the play clinic until she discovered the play kits. At home, she is stimulated by playing with her younger twin sisters. She has learned to be more independent and her mother is proud of every small achievement.

Her mother is working in the play clinic and says it has helped her to socialise more, meeting other parents in the same situation. It was wonderful to see how much the programme has improved the lives of the whole family, not only Adrija’s. Her family tries to provide her with play at home but says it has been difficult. They will receive a play kit, so she can practise at home, and this will hopefully stimulate her development even more.

Adrija playing at the local play clinic. By Marcio Saiki.

The Young Athletes programme is normally for children under eight, but the rules can be changed by each district, which is why Adrija can still join in. We saw her again when we visited the community play programme and it was wonderful to see how much she was enjoying playing and interacting with the other children…and making friends!

Sheik Suman with children from the community. By Taichi Sato.

One of the children I remember the most from this trip is Sheik Suman. We visited his home in the locality Central Circle Suri in the village Karimpur. He has autism and ADHD. He was very excited to meet us and kept playing “pass the ball”. In the beginning he would not let the other children from the community take part in the game. When we started to include the other children he automatically started playing with them as well. Through the programme he has learned to connect with other children, to share, and is better able to cope with stress.

Sheik Suman playing “pass the ball”. By Talitha Terryn.

We noticed on some visits that other families with children with ID were jealous of the attention the children within the programme were getting when we visited their homes or play clinic. They also want their children to join the programme because they see the positive changes for the whole community—they can see that their child is able to achieve something, raising their hopes for their future.

India recognises Special Olympics Athletes participating in the World Games as real athletes. If they win a medal they receive a money prize from the state, just like athletes without disabilities. We were told a story about one participant who won at the World Games and was able to pay for the kidney transplant for his father. Where he in the beginning might have been perceived as a  burden to his family he was actually the one supporting the family in the end. Stories like this are encouraging other families with children with ID; through sports the athletes are seen for their abilities, not for their disabilities!

Takahiro Miyato playing with children at a play clinic. By Marcio Saiki.

At every site we visited we were met with smiles, high-fives and curiosity. They were all very proud to show us the development of the children and the communities. I expected to see more children throwing tantrums or having a difficult time, but most of them just smiled and had fun. We heard that challenging behaviours have declined through play.

The Young Athletes programme is run mainly by volunteers in India. They have so much dedication, patience and use so much of their time…it has been a humbling experience! Everyone showed us a lot of appreciation and was so thankful for the work the IKEA Foundation and Special Olympics are doing. But for me the volunteers, coaches, families and the children are the real heroes, not us!

IWitness team IKEA Japan in India (Marcio Saiki, Taichi Sato, Takahiro Miyato and Talitha Terryn) By Marcio Saiki.

With the help of the IKEA Foundation, Special Olympics has been able to grow faster and reach out to more children, impact more families and further break down the perceptions that exist for children with intellectual disabilities.

I am proud to be an IWitness ambassador! Let’s join the INCLUSION revolution: communities, families…everyone is benefiting from an inclusive community with tolerance and respect! Together, we can overcome the fear of difference through the power of inclusion!

Marcio Saiki playing with children at a play clinic. By Marcio Saiki.
    Talitha Terryn