Playing is more than just fun

Before this trip, I had no expectations of what I would experience. I thought we would visit some schools and play with some children, however this iWitness trip opened my eyes and humbled me beyond measure.

I work in eCommerce therefore I work on the Let’s Play for Change campaign online.  I had no idea of the impact that it has on the world beyond my computer screen. Not only does the Let’s Play for Change campaign/Special Olympics foundation help disabled children that live in poverty, but it also helps the parents and the communities.

Travelling to India took 24 hrs.Claudia and I (Montreal) met up with Abby (Toronto). It was definitely a long trip to India, but we made it.

It is so much more than a fun game of catch. I learned that through play, a child is taught physical fitness, basic motor skills, teamwork, leadership, and self-confidence.    I also learned that playing with a child with intellectual disability was not different at all. These young athletes smiled just as big and had just as much fun.  I got to kick ball, jump hurdles and run around the cones with the children using the play kits that were sent by the Special Olympics.

We sat down with some parents and that’s when I realized that this programs affects much more than just the children.  In India, children with disabilities are often shunned, proving to be very difficult for the parents to find support.  The Special Olympics creates a sense of community for the parents where they now are able to feel proud of their child. The program has changed people’s perceptions to be more inclusive and accepting.

Bringing families together. Sitting down with the parents at Manovikas Kendra. By Catherine Bornasal.

It’s amazing how you can see the success/progress of the program in these villages.  The little boy that we visited, Sheik Suman, demonstrated independence and leadership. He was throwing around the ball and even giving us direction for a new game.

I learned that the children that participate develop life skills beyond the sport like getting dressed in the morning or getting a job in the future.

Playing with Sheik Suman from Central Circle Suri in the village Karimpur. Photo by Catherine Bornasal.

There were so many people that gathered around us everywhere that you can feel the sense of community. It’s surprising to know that it is volunteers from the local villages that run the play clinics and are genuinely passionate about helping. The first play clinic that we visited was coordinated by a group of university students whom we met the day before. The local university has started integrating a curriculum around “physical activity with children”. The second play clinic was coordinated by two brothers whom volunteer and dedicate hours every week.

It was an intense week, however I am grateful for the opportunity. I can truly say that this experience has opened my eyes to a world out there much bigger than my own.  I often forget how much I can affect from my keyboard, but I realize that I am an ambassador of change for inclusiveness and acceptance.

Poster hanging at the entrance of the school, Manovikas Kendra. Photo by Catherine Bornasal.