Being given the opportunity to participate in an IWitness trip was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. My trip to Kolkata, India ended a little less than a week ago. As I am sitting down to write this blog post, I am finding it difficult to put my experience into words. To start, it would be a lie not to say that the week didn’t present many challenges. It was a week filled with bumpy roads, reckless driving, incessant honking, sleepless nights and unbearably hot days (for a Canadian, at least).
But, as we began our visits to schools and homes, these challenges became insignificant details of a trip that I would never forget. This was a trip that was not only eye-opening and humbling but it also taught me the power of action – any action, big or small.
The purpose of an IWitness trip is to see with your own eyes the work that the IKEA Foundation and their partners are doing. On this particular trip, we got to see how Special Olympics is using sports and play to transform the lives of children with intellectual disabilities. By providing a kit filled with sports equipment, and training coaches and volunteers in these communities, Special Olympics is giving children the chance to develop through play. In doing this, they are creating inclusive societies that respect and accept everyone—including those with differences. In one week, I saw many things that stuck with me. I saw the fight of a mother for her child’s acceptance, the joy of a child given the opportunity to play, the passion of a team of volunteers who want to help and bring change, the love of a community, the drive of four employees committed to a cause and, above all, the difference that a kit of sports equipment can make in the lives of so many people.
During the week, we met a young boy from Karimpur village. His name is Sheik Suman and, just like any other 10-year-old boy, Sheik is very active and extremely sociable. He has been part of the Young Athletes programme for one year and his mother and educator both seemed so happy about the progress that they’ve seen in him.
His mother pointed out how the programme has given her the chance to connect with other parents in similar situations and how it helped support her through her situation. Sheik’s father had left the family because he blamed Sheik’s mother. I could see how important the work of the IKEA Foundation, partnered with Special Olympics, really was. Play in this case was not only about games but actually about helping to create a loving community and environment for a mother and her child.
On my last day, I met a special young boy who is in a wheelchair because he has very little muscular strength. This didn’t stop him from playing catch with me! We started to throw the ball back and forth and within minutes he had me sweating and out of breath! It was incredible to see how much fun he was having. Thanks to the programme, which he gets to participate in once or twice a week, he’s developing his muscular arm strength—so much so that he didn’t want to stop playing! But, after speaking a bit with his mother, I found out that as much as he loves sports, he’s like any other young boy that you might know; his all-time favourite activity is actually to play video games!
All in all, it was a privilege to be able to be able to see how the work that is done in retail for the Let’s Play for Change campaign is having such an impact on so many people and how we, as IKEA co-workers, can help bring even more change to the world. I am proud to work for such an amazing company and I can’t emphasise enough what great and important the work the IKEA Foundation and their partners are doing.