Special Olympics Rwanda, an organization that engages children and adults with intellectual disabilities into sports, has recently received a support worth USD 650,000 (about Rwf618 million) from the Special Olympics International.
With the support, last week, there was launched the Unified Champion Schools (UCS), a model that aims to promote social inclusion of students with and without intellectual disabilities in their schools, through inclusive sports activities.
Deus Sangwa, the Chairman of Special Olympics Rwanda, spoke to the Weekend Sport’s Damas Sikubwabo on how the support will be used, the newly launched UCS programme and more about the progress Special Olympics Rwanda has made over the years.
The ‘Unified Champions’ programme will be implemented in 400 schools across the country. It will involve both children with intellectual disabilities and those without.
After the Special Olympics World Summer Games that took place in Abu Dhabi last year, the prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed pledged USD25 million to support the sports development for people with intellectual disabilities in six countries across the world.
This support was channeled through Special Olympics (international) who were in charge of selecting the six most deserving countries. Rwanda was chosen as the only sub-Sahara African country and one of the only two African nations along with Egypt. Globally, other selected countries include Argentina, India, Pakistan and Romania.
Through Special Olympics, Rwanda received USD650,000 to implement the programme in schools across the country.
This support will be used in 400 schools, among which 40 are from the City of Kigali, 70 from the Eastern Province, 120 from the Northern Province and Western Province, and 170 from the Southern Province.
When did Special Olympics start to get attention in Rwanda, and what is the progress has it made after 18 years?
Special Olympics Rwanda was officially established in 2002.
It was not easy at the beginning because people were not familiar with how a person with intellectual disability can have a game he or she is able to play. But, what was more appalling is that even parents of such children used to hide them.
On top of that, the country also had many people who were dealing with the trauma – and other effects – of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. It was difficult to differentiate people with permanent intellectual disabilities, drug addicts who needed rehabilitation and Genocide Survivors who needed professional counselling and other kinds of assistance.
It took a collective effort from professionals from different fields and the government to determine who needed what without leaving anyone behind. After that exercise, Special Olympics Rwanda embarked on its mission to get those with intellectual disabilities out of isolation and engaging them into sports.
18 years down the road, a lot has been achieved by Special Olympics Rwanda. We are among the most performing countries in Africa, backed up by the most supportive government. We have year-round activities across all parts of the country and have won several medals over the years, including gold medals at this year’s Special Olympics Pan African Games, in Egypt, and the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Because of the tremendous progress we have made and Rwanda’s proven ability to organise successful international events, Rwanda was earlier this year confirmed as the host country for the 2nd Special Olympics Pan African Games due in 2022.
Rwanda is lauded as one of the best countries in Special Olympics on the continent, how do you think that has changed the sphere of those with intellectual disability?
It has changed a lot, especially the mentality around intellectual disability. Rwanda is recognised one of the countries in Africa that promote Special Olympics at the highest level.
Unlike in the past, parents are now proud of bringing their children to different games, get trained and go on to represent the country in various international competitions.
How is the preparation for the 2nd Pan African Games coming along?
The preparations should have begun months ago but it was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Plans are underway and we are soon starting to engage different stakeholders so we can host a memorial event come 2022.