Special Olympics in India: a new world for children with intellectual disabilities

In just a few days, a group of co-workers from IKEA India will experience the power and joy of Special Olympics in their local community.

During the one-day IWitness trip, our local Special Olympics chapter in India (Special Olympics Bharat), will take the co-workers to the Child Guidance Centre in Ranga Reddy and Spurthi School in Hyderabad, where they will experience the power of play for children with intellectual disabilities and their families.

Children with intellectual disabilities represent one of the most underserved and disadvantaged populations around the world. Globally, intellectual and physical disabilities are viewed as a stigma, and even a curse, ostracizing both the child and their family from their community. For the vast majority of children with intellectual disabilities and their families, access to comprehensive and effective early childhood development activities is limited or non-existent. In the developing world, where resources are scarce for all children, the obstacles children with intellectual disabilities face make access to support almost impossible.

In India, where population numbers are so large and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) so small, people with intellectual disabilities are at the bottom of the list when it comes to providing services and support. And the access to support for children with intellectual disabilities is even scarcer. Children aged 0 – 18 make up 29% of the population of people with disabilities, while around 48.6% of children aged 0 – 18 years old live in poverty.

Unfortunately, there is a clear link between disability and poverty, which reinforces vulnerability and exclusion. Children who live in poverty are more likely to become disabled due to poor access to healthcare, clean water and basic sanitation, as well as malnutrition, and dangerous living and working conditions. And once a child is disabled, they are more likely to be denied basic resources that would mitigate or prevent deepening poverty.

However, thanks to support from the IKEA Foundation’s Let’s Play for Change campaign, more than 300,000 children with intellectual disabilities are getting access to play-based development activities through Special Olympics Young Athletes.

Young Athletes highlights the importance of play and includes a series of structured physical activities, songs and games to teach basic motor development skills. Through these play activities, children grow and develop valuable motor skills, like walking and running. They while also develop better social and cognitive skills through interaction with their peers with and without intellectual disabilities. The opportunity for growth changes the family’s perception and leads to a more positive recognition of the value and worth of their child.

During their visit in Hyderabad, the IKEA India co-workers will have the eye-opening opportunity to see first-hand how play can open up a whole new world of happiness, friendship, support and joy for children with intellectual disabilities. Most of the children in the communities the co-workers will be visiting are living in extreme poverty. Many of these children were orphaned at an early age and come to the centres for an opportunity to play, learn and get a hot meal—often the only one they will eat in a day. This powerful opportunity for the IKEA India co-workers to connect with children, their families and teachers will truly spotlight that every child, regardless of ability level or socio-economic status, deserves the right to play.

Our project in India is part of Special Olympics’ larger project with the IKEA Foundation. Funding from the IKEA Foundation is supporting the growth of Young Athletes in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Thailand through 2019. The goal is to include 350,000 children in Young Athletes activities, thereby creating 5,000 socially inclusive communities that foster the development and growth of children with intellectual disabilities.

We hope you will join us on the blog and follow the journey of the IKEA India co-workers as they experience the life-changing impact of Special Olympics in their own communities.