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Connecting with intellectually disabled through games – How Coca-Cola is helping to build bridges

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DisableDisabilities, particularly in toddlers and infants were once-upon-a –time considered unusual and therefore a taboo in a society.  For this reason, families felt reluctant and indeed embarrassed to raise children with any form of disability.

Even in advanced countries where one would have thought that child disabilities were accepted and better catered for with appropriate institutions in place, there are still some forms of discrimination against them.  In the case of people with intellectual disabilities, they are left behind in their education and the chances of them getting good jobs and leading independent lives in their adulthood are virtually nonexistent. Indeed, it is generally believed that people with intellectual disabilities are every society’s most neglected population.  Nearly 200 million people are intellectually disabled thus making it the largest disability population in the world.

We have come very far and so society’s attitude to many forms of disabilities, including intellectual disabilities have changed for the better. But helping society to adapt to the change are institutions and organisations that are trained to turn society’s misconceptions of uselessness in disability to acceptance, love and usefulness.  Thanks to organisations such as Special Olympics and the support of corporate bodies such as Coca-Cola, the confidence levels of the intellectually disabled have shot up through sports and today, they live in communities as people with hope.

What are Special Olympics?

Special Olympics is an international organisation which seeks to address inactivity, injustice, intolerance and social isolation by encouraging and empowering people with intellectual disabilities  to live in a welcoming and inclusive society.

Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Special Olympics movement has grown from a few hundred athletes to nearly 400 million in 170 countries.

Using sports as a catalyst, Special Olympics is a special kind of sporting activity organised for people with intellectual disabilities to purposely create acceptance and respect for such people within schools and communities.

As a global organisation, Special Olympics has changed and continues to change the lives of people with intellectual disabilities by tackling the injustice, isolation, intolerance and the inactivity they face wherever they go.  With 225 accredited programmes in n 170 countries, Special Olympics is providing opportunities for more than four million athletes, one million volunteers and millions more including family members, supporters and fans.  It has seven regional offices around the world located in China, Egypt, Ireland, Panama, Singapore, South Africa and the United States of America.

Adhering to the Special Olympics oath which says, “Let me win but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt”, all those who participate in Special Olympics live everyday with the spirit of the oath.

Effects of Special Olympics

The Special Olympics concept is not only changing the minds and attitudes of communities towards intellectual disabilities but it is also changing for the better, their confidence.  Available key demographics note that approximately 65 percent of the Special Olympics athletes are of school age (8 to 12) and over 33 percent are adults (22+).  In addition, Special Olympics serves more than 75,000 individuals in the 2 to 7 age group and female athletes account for 38 percent of the total Special Olympics athlete population worldwide.

Special Olympics try to break barriers as well as societal misconceptions as it brings people with and without intellectual disabilities together on the same sports fields as team mates through their unified sports.

Building communities and strengthening relationships

The beauty of Special Olympics is that it builds strong, cohesive and inclusive communities by marshalling resources and implementing diverse programming to drive positive attitudinal and behavioural change towards people with intellectual disabilities.  The spirit of Special Olympics promotes the overall well being of people with intellectual disabilities through programmes that ensure ongoing access to quality community based healthcare services, highlighted by free health screening at Special Olympics competitions, games and other venue.

Special Olympics in Ghana

Ghana is no exception to the acclaimed truth that people with intellectual disabilities are every society’s most neglected population and that is why the idea of Special Olympics in Ghana was a welcome news when in 1978, an American Peace Corps, Mike Duschen, then attached to the Dzorwulu Special School mooted the idea.

On 4th March 1978, Special Olympics Ghana was inaugurated.  At the Accra Sports Stadium, the first Special Olympics competition was held with the Dzorwulu and New Horizon Special Schools fielding athletes for the games.

In 1983, Ghana joined the world for the summer Special Olympics which was then held in Batten Rouge, Louisiana, USA.  Ghana’s athletes in the games came back home with one silver and two bronze medals in athletics, the only sports they participated in.   Since then, Ghana has been at six Special Olympics, the recent being 2007 in Shanghai.

Based on the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) estimate that approximately two to three percent of every population have intellectual disabilities, it goes without saying that based on Ghana’s population of 24,339,838, there are an estimated 486, 796 people with intellectual disabilities.  How do we help all these people integrate properly with the rest of society without any inhibitions?

As in the tradition of Special Olympics and using sports as a catalyst, the intellectually disabled in Ghana, including children from the New Horizon and Dzorwulu Special Schools have had the opportunity to exhibit leadership and confidence in themselves and created a bond of acceptance in the Ghanaian society.

The Coca-Cola partnership

Through the benevolence of some corporate bodies, the Ghana team has been able to organise Special Olympics, the most recent one was held in July this year.  Indeed, the awareness being created by the games goes a long way to change mindsets in the society.  For this to be sustained, they would need the benevolence of corporate and individuals to support their programmes.

Thankfully, the cry of the Special Olympics Ghana team has been met by partnership efforts of Coca-Cola Ghana.

As part of their commitment to Ghana, the Coca-Cola system endeavours to make a positive difference in people’s lives by supporting local communities by helping to address the socio-economic challenges such as providing economic opportunities, increase access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation, health, sports and promoting educational excellence.  It is for the reason of making a difference in the lives of the intellectually disabled  that in July this year, the Coca-Cola system in Ghana formed a partnership  with Special Olympics Ghana to organize the July 2013 games held in the Volta Region.

The games which were held at Hohoe from 23rd to 26th July, involved children from over 30 schools across Ghana.  In a chat with the Chairman of the Special Olympics Ghana Committee, ACP Augustine Korkukor, he lauded the contribution of Coca-Cola for making the 2013 Special Olympics possible.  He said that opportunities such as the one provided by Coca-Cola and a couple of other donors help to create opportunities for the intellectually disabled and also open the eyes of the community.

The Coca-Cola partnership with Special Olympics is not only at the local level.  Coca-Cola international has for many years partnered Special Olympics at the world level to bring smiles to the faces of athletes at the Special Olympics and helped promoted leadership qualities in them.

According to Ama Bawuah, Head of Public Affairs and Communications at Coca-Cola Equatorial Africa, the company’s partnership with Special Olympics Ghana is in line with the company’s values both globally and locally.  She said assisting one of the most vulnerable groups in the community was a focus area for the Coca-Cola system, adding: “It is our aim to support and allow happiness to flow in the communities where we do business.

Hopefully, the partnership with Special Olympics Ghana will grow stronger with the coming years as Coca-Cola promises to encourage the limitless potential and assist people with intellectual disabilities to co-exist happily in their schools and communities.  This is with the hope that participating in the games would engender and sustain acceptance and respect through inclusive sports, fitness and youth activation programming.


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