It all started in Massachusetts, US, when Eunice Kennedy Shriver saw how unjustly people with intellectual disabilities were treated. Such children didn’t even have a place to play. Shriver took matters in her own hand and organised Camp Shriver - a summer day camp for young people with intellectual disabilities in her own backyard. The goal was to promote the concept of involvement in physical activity and other opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities and not dwell on what they could not do. In the next half century, this initiative grew to be the Special Olympics movement and spread all over the world. Special Olympics Bharat was registered in 2001. Since then it has gone from strength to strength. Dr Commander Kartikay Saini, Chairman of the organisation tells Nirupama Sekhri about its achievements and aspirations
Your organisation works primarily with children with severe intellectual disabilities. Could you explain how your coaches and mentors work with them, and the outcome of your programmes?
The Mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round training and conduct competitions in 32 Olympic-style summer and winter sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.
Special Olympics Bharat provides sports training and competition opportunities in 36 States/Union Territories and 679 districts in India. Using sports as a catalyst for change, we offer a range of special initiatives that help in the overall development of these athletes.
Most of the coaches and mentors working with the Special Olympic athletes are volunteers. India is a large country with a coastline of 7517 kilometres and 1721 different languages spoken in different parts of the country. Hence, it is not easy to organise events and get people with intellectual disabilities from different states and districts for the events.
There is marked lack of awareness in the society and denial when it comes to dealing with children with special needs. What kind of programmes do you run to raise awareness? What has the response been so far?
Yes, there is a lack of awareness. However, these days many media agencies are coming forward to sensitise people about people with special needs. Many sports and Bollywood celebrities are getting involved to create awareness and acceptance. The main motive of Special Olympics Bharat is to create awareness about the Special Olympics movement and the opportunities it presents. It also fights stigma and creates awareness on how people without intellectual disabilities can come forward and help. Focus today is on young students from schools, colleges and universities to train them to take care of the people with intellectual disabilities.
People from Special Olympics under Project Unify and Unified Sports go to the schools and train students on Special Olympics sports. Through these programmes organised in schools and universities people with or without intellectual disabilities play and do other activities together to bridge the gap.
After the training, the students are encouraged to take the programme forward in their respective schools, other nearby schools and in their communities. A Youth Leadership Programme has been started by Special Olympics Bharat in different parts of India. Under this programme school students in each state are trained to become Youth Leaders and they are the ones who take the programme forward in their respective district and State.
The Government is also now prioritizing the needs of people with special needs. Many workshops are being organised.
Coaches and teachers working with special children need specialised training. What kind of qualifications do you expect from your staff? Do you also run or support teacher training?
Special Olympics Bharat has a large pool of coaches and trainers that it draws on for training athletes. Coaches also undergo continuous training to cater to our growing number of athletes either as stand-alone coaches and trainers or as physical educators at local levels and special schools.
To train our coaches Advance Coaches Training Programs (ACTP) are organised. Special Olympics Bharat facilitates further education of coaches through programmes such as post- graduate diploma courses in Special Olympics, carried out at the Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University, faculty of General and Adapted Physical Education and Yoga. Training in Games Management System (GMS) is conducted to impart computer knowledge to the coaches. The GMS is a course which aims at managing large and small scale events, along with registering and tracking athletes in competition and training.
Parents of children with special needs require a lot of support - financial, physical and infrastructural. Could you tell us about specific programmes and grants that the Government provides for parents and children with special needs. What more can be done?
A lot needs to be done for people with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics Bharat organises a Healthy Athlete Programme where athletes’ overall health and fitness are taken care of. This is achieved through basic health screenings of feet, vision, audiology, dentistry, physical therapy and a general health check-up followed by treatments.
Special Olympics Bharat also offers a family forum programme for parents of children with special needs. This programme focuses on family outreach through a Family Support Network.
Special Olympics Bharat had been recognised by the Government of India, Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in 2006, as a National Sports Federation in the ‘Priority’ category for the development of sports for persons with intellectual disabilities. It was designated as the nodal agency in 2010 by the Government for the conduct of sports for persons with all disabilities on account of its national presence, outreach and experience.
With the support of Sports Authority of India (SAI)/Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS) under their Annual Calendar for Trainings and Competitions (ACTC) the athletes are trained at the National Coaching Camps to prepare them for international level competitions. The Ministry also pays for athletes who are selected for Special Olympics Summer and Winter World Games.
Since Special Olympics is a voluntary and non-profit organisation, besides the government, the corporate sector will also have to understand their responsibility towards this social cause and come forward to help.
It has been largely seen that children with special needs are treated in schools in a blanket manner without making efforts to understand the specific needs of each child so as to help them cope better and develop. Given your experience, what would your recommendations for this be?
We need to first educate people about intellectual disabilities and automatically then the children with special needs will be accepted in the society and schools. With proper training, the staff members will understand these children and will be able to handle their unique needs. Special Olympics is trying to organise camps and workshops in schools to train the teachers but this will need a lot of effort from school administrations and Government too.
Dr Commander Kartikay Saini, has 30 years of distinguished professional experience behind him, both in the Armed Forces as well as the corporate world. He is currently the Chairman of Scottish High International School and a Director of Hema Group of Industries, a 5000 million dollars turnover company