Greetings readers! My name is Jennifer and I am excited to welcome you on our IWitness journey to India with Special Olympics. Over the next week, we will welcome a group of nine IKEA Taiwan co-workers to two states in India—Delhi and Haryana. During their week-long visit, the co-workers will experience the power of Special Olympics and see first-hand how sport and play can change the lives of children with intellectual disabilities and their families.
How you ask? Through Special Olympics Young Athletes, of course!
Young Athletes is a sport and play programme for children with and without intellectual disabilities (ID), aged two to seven years old. Young Athletes introduces basic sport skills, like running, kicking and throwing and offers families, teachers, caregivers and people from the community the chance to share the joy of sports with all children. Young Athletes provides children with activities and games that meet their individual skill and ability levels, while allowing them to play together in a fun and inclusive environment. Not only that, but it also highlights that all children should be valued for their talents and abilities.
Through Young Athletes, children learn valuable motor, social and cognitive development skills. These skills are important for all children in their critical learning stages and even more important for children with intellectual disabilities. Children with ID represent one of the most underserved populations in the world. Due to misconceptions, stereotypes and stigma, they often lack access to early childhood development programmes that would give them the opportunity to learn, grow and develop.
For children with intellectual disabilities in India, where 48% of children aged zero to 10 live in poverty and 29% of the population of people with disabilities is under 19 years old, the access to support, information and resources at an early age for children and families is limited. This leads to isolation and frustration, and ensures children are not given the opportunities to achieve their best.
Despite all of this, thanks to the IKEA Foundation, Special Olympics Bharat (India) is making a real difference in the lives of children with ID and their families. Through the “Let’s Play for Change” campaign, Special Olympics is striving to make a true impact for children with intellectual disabilities across India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Thailand. 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.
For India, the support from the IKEA Foundation means getting to bring purposeful play and fun to places like the Sonia Memorial School, the Kulachi Hansraj Manovikas Kendra School, the community Anganwadi centres and directly into the homes of special children. These are all places the IKEA co-workers will get to visit on their IWitness trip to India.
In the Balmiki Anganwadi centre, the co-workers will see first-hand the power and impact of play in some of the poorest regions in India. This is a Government-sponsored mother and child development programme that caters to children ages zero to six. Prior to participating in Young Athletes, the centre struggled to get people to participate in their daily activities. But play has sparked interest and excitement in the community. Families of children with and without intellectual disabilities are signing up to attend the centre so they can participate in Young Athletes.
On their home visit, the co-workers will get to meet Ankit, a special child who lives in poverty. He lives with his parents, who both have disabilities and work for daily wages, and his two siblings, who help support in his care. Together as a family, Ankit, his siblings and his parents do Young Athletes activities at home. Through the activities, they can support Ankit in his development and grow closer and more connected as a family unit.
We just know the IKEA Taiwan co-workers are going to have an amazing experience full of learning, connections and a lot of fun! We hope you will join their journey right here on the IKEA Foundation blog!