Welcome to a world of inclusion, friendship and fun – welcome to Special Olympics.

My name is Nui and I am the National Director for Special Olympics Thailand. I am a champion for change and believe in the right for children and adults with intellectual disabilities to be included, accepted and respected.

Using the power of sports as our driver, Special Olympics is a global social movement dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with intellectual disabilities. Through sport, our athletes develop confidence, experience joy, change attitudes and improve their health and well-being. But the transformative power of sport not only benefits adults with intellectual disabilities – through Special Olympics Young Athletes, children with and without intellectual disabilities, ages 2 – 7 years old, participate in inclusive play activities.

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.

Here in Thailand, the benefit of Young Athletes is critical and life-changing – with almost 22% of people under 18 years old having a disability. Through structured play, children develop valuable motor skills, while also improving social and cognitive development through interaction with their peers. But more than that, in our communities where children with intellectual disabilities are often isolated, stigmatized or forgotten about – Young Athletes gives families hope. Hope for a successful future. Hope for friendship. Hope for happiness.

Thanks to support from the IKEA Foundation’s “Let’s Play for Change” campaign, we are spreading hope by bringing Young Athletes activities to all 77 districts in Thailand. Not only will we be striving to reach every community in Thailand, but in the span of three years, we hope to support 15,500 children with and without intellectual disabilities and 7,800 family members. Our goals are lofty, but we know with the support of the IKEA Foundation, we can change our communities to support, include and respect people with intellectual disabilities!

And I can think of no more exciting way to celebrate our support from the IKEA Foundation then sharing our work through the IKEA Foundation Global Citizens Program – IWitness trip. In just a few weeks, IKEA co-workers from Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand will join us in Thailand to visit our activities in Nakhon Pathom and Phitsanulok. But more than just observing, we are excited to invite these co-workers to join the Special Olympics family as agents of change for inclusion and respect.

During their visit to Thailand, the IKEA co-workers will have the eye-opening opportunity to see firsthand how play can open up a whole new world of happiness, friendship, support and joy for children with intellectual disabilities. They will visit two schools in Nakhon Pathom and Phitsanulosk. During these visits, the co-workers will be able to connect with children, their families and teachers and step into our world for a few days. Together we’ll watch youth with and without intellectual disabilities demonstrate their sports skills and witness how these seemingly simple activities have a huge impact on not only the children but their families. The children in these programs come from a variety of different backgrounds, with many of the families working in low-paying jobs in factories or farms. For many, Special Olympics Young Athletes provides a social outlet and sense of community for families and children that might otherwise be isolated.  The families each bring a unique perspective and experience and truly showcase how, regardless of ability level or socioeconomic status, every child deserves the right to play – and have fun in the process!

In addition to having fun in our community programs, the co-workers will also have the opportunity to visit the homes of two families in Phitsanulok – the Pai Family and the Kong Family. Meeting families and speaking with them inside their own homes provides the incredible opportunity for IKEA co-workers to experience the power of these programs on a personal level and see the positive impact that play has had on these children’s lives.

The IKEA Foundation’s “Let’s Play for Change” campaign has helped open up a whole new world of opportunity for children with intellectual disabilities and their families. We are changing lives from despair to hope, from uncertainty to future – and we hope you’ll join us along for this amazing journey.