Special Olympics Caribbean tightens bond with partners
Special Olympics Caribbean Initiative Athlete Leadership Council Chairman David Duncan (right) speaks to (from left) Mike Hamilton, senior director of Independent School Development for Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools; Nathan Koller, manager of progamme development for global Unified Champion Schools; and Haylie Wrubel, Special Olympics senior director for Global Education Strategy and Programming, during a press conference at the Office of the Commissioner of Police on Wednesday. (Photo: Collin Reid)

AS attention turns to the much-anticipated World Summer Games next year, the Special Olympics Caribbean Initiative received a major boost recently as partners reaffirmed their commitment to the development of programmes in Jamaica and the wider region.

Last week, representatives from Special Olympics International visited Jamaica to observe the management of the Unified Champion Schools activities, as well as to meet with programme leaders from Bermuda, St Kitts and Nevis, and Trinidad and Tobago to provide guidance for similar execution in those territories.

The Unified Champion Schools project is organised by the Special Olympics Caribbean Initiative and funded by the Greek-based Stavros Niarchos Foundation. The project promotes social inclusion by gringing together young people with and without intellectual disabilities for sport competition, educational and youth leadership projects, and other activities.

During a press conference at the Office of the Commissioner of Police on Wednesday, Haylie Wrubel, the Special Olympics senior director for global education strategy and programming, said Government support is central to the overall success of the various programmes.

"We are committed to growing and strengthening Special Olympics programmes here through continued partnership with the Jamaican Government," she said, noting that projects in Jamaica can form a template for other countries in the Caribbean.

"Working together to deepen our partnership shows the international community that in Jamaica those with intellectual disabilities are not just included, but centred in post-COVID education recovery efforts. We've already made so much progress and there's so much more to do," Wrubel added.

The Special Olympics senior director announced the provision of a US$50,000 grant for Special Olympics Jamaica (SOJ) to help organise the Unified Champion Schools activities in eastern Jamaica. She said programmes in Bermuda, St Kitts and Nevis, and Trinidad and Tobago will also receive grants.

Jamaica's Minister of Sport Olivia Grange, in her address, lauded the work of Special Olympics administrators and volunteers, and emphasised that her Government will continue to foster "social inclusion" through sporting activities.

"As minister I've always had a profound love for, and have pledged my unwavering support, to Special Olympics Jamaica," Grange shared during the press conference.

"Sport and physical activity are key to who we are as a people. It is therefore imperative that all Jamaicans, regardless of ability, are able to freely access and participate in sport and physical activities."

Grange said the Unified Champion Schools initiative "embodies the idea of sport for all". She added that "playing together allows us to understand each other".

Meanwhile, on Thursday a unified team from Corinaldi Avenue Primary School of St James emerged winner of a one-day football rally staged at Football Factory in St Andrew.

Coleridge "Roy" Howell, the SOJ executive director, was impressed by the rally, noting that the young footballers — from diverse socio-economic backgrounds across the country — displayed "talent, competitive spirit and exemplary discipline".

At the end of the site visit, Lorna Bell, the Special Olympics Caribbean Initiative executive director, told the Jamaica Observer that the three days of activities were a "massive success".

She added: "I'm very encouraged by the continued support of our partners as we strive to increase awareness and expand our programmes throughout the region."

Bell ended by praising the support given by Digicel, Lions Club International, UNICEF, members of the Law Enforcement Torch Run, Jamaica Olympic Association, Jamaica Football Federation and the Jamaica Council for Persons with Disabilities.

The 2023 Special Olympics Summer Games is to be held in Berlin, Germany, in June.

Through sport activities and competition the Special Olympics International movement aims to break down barriers that exclude people with intellectual disabilities, such as autism and Down's syndrome, from mainstream society.

— Sanjay Myers

Haylie Wrubel (left), Special Olympics senior director for Global Education Strategy and Programming, speaks to Sport Minister Olivia Grange during a press conference at the Office of the Commissioner of Police on Wednesday. (Photo: Collin Reid)

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