We chose the headline Ohana because, through this trip today, we learnt that family is an important element in Special Olympics. Family is one of the main support systems—especially for a child with special needs to learn and grow into an independent individual.
Loh Yan Wen and Katherine Tan (SG IKEA) tell about their experience in the field:
This year, six participants from IKEA South East Asia were selected to experience a Special Olympics IWitness trip in Thailand. We started the journey on 30 October with an introduction to Special Olympics from Rachaniwan Bulakul, the National Director of Special Olympics in Thailand.
We travelled to Nakhon Pathom Centre in the morning to meet young athletes between the ages of two and seven. The journey was an hour from the Bangkok city area and we were not expecting the centre to be situated in the rural area. Despite this, families of young athletes still make the commitment to bring their child on an average three times per week to the centre to learn motor and social skills in a fun and inclusive environment.
We were given the opportunity to socialise and interact with family members and young athletes today by participating along with them in a variety of sports that help to enhance their motor skills. Through our interaction with the young athletes, we realised that despite their disabilities, they are simply just kids at heart. They are pure, with so much love and joy to share with us, and that is the beauty in them. All the young athletes received a medal at the end of the sports activities and it was priceless to witness the joy on their faces.
Towards the end of the activities, we had the opportunity to interview two family members. One is a single mother and the other a wife with a spouse who is away for work often. The mothers are committed to bringing their child to the centre so that they can take part in the activities. The three takeaways from the interview are:
- The families, who experience similar situations, rely on each other for support, strength and encouragement.
- The parents feel proud that their child learns to develop skills such as interacting with other kids, listening to instructions, following the rules and paying attention.
- The parents have high hopes for their child to be independent, to be able to live a normal life and hopefully to even get into university and be able to work in future.
Eighty per cent of the kids here at Nakhon Pathom come from incomplete families, which is a result of stigma held by a society that thinks children with intellectual disabilities are a burden. Yet the community here, the teachers, the caregivers and the trainers are so positive and dedicated to teaching the children important skills to be independent. What’s more important is that the positivity they have in them is being channeled to outsiders like us or newcomers who are just getting to know this place.
It was an eye-opening experience for all of us today to have the chance to interact with the young athletes and their family members. They radiate so much positive energy in them that we all left the centre with a smile on our faces.