Special Olympics Samoa has seen enormous growth in its short life. And for those involved, it has proved an invaluable tool to include people with disabilities and demonstrate unlocked potential.
Samoa’s only established organisation which focuses on including people with a disability through sport comes under the umbrella of Special Olympics International.
Speaking to the Samoa Observer, Tusitina Nu’uvali, the Director of Special Olympics Samoa, explained that the organisation sprouted here in Samoa back in 2009.
Launched by Digicel, the Samoa Special Olympics still operates with their continual support.
“Digicel Samoa was the one behind the initiative to push it through here. Now, we all agree we are still Digicel’s baby,” she said.
“The support and the belief that Digicel Samoa has for this movement is still ongoing. They still give us $40,000 every year. Digicel Samoa supports us in any way like if we ask for the use of the vehicles and the tents, the use of their staff we’ll get it.”
When the organisation began it had less than one hundred athletes but now it has grown to encompass close to four hundred athletes who range in age from two to fifty-five.
Athletes up until the age of eight participate in a special Young Athlete Program which is designed to develop motor skills through fun activities.
Although Special Olympics is a dedicated organisation for people with intellectual disabilities, people with physical disabilities are welcome to join and will be registered as a Unified Partner.
The local sporting programmes provided by Special Olympics Samoa serves multiple purposes. While it develops skills for people with disabilities, Nu’uvali emphasised that it also allows them to be seen for their abilities.
“We use sport as a tool to include people with disabilities and we use sport as a tool for the community to see the potential. It’s an opportunity for their family to see them in their ability other than their disabilities and it’s the same opportunity that we offer the community,” says Nu’uvali.
“Probably ninety-five percent of individuals love sport. With the movement of using sport as a tool it’s just right, it does its magic of including everyone regardless of our differences, and we’ve seen it.”
One of the international guidelines under Special Olympics International is that the athlete must be accompanied at trainings or competitions by a family member. This policy has provided a chance for family to witness the athletes’ often previously untapped abilities.
“Some parents have never seen their kids in that full potential. Because of that guideline that we have provided it is an opportunity for them to come. Some parents are shocked when they see their kids running and do things on the field,” explained Nu’uvali.
Furthermore the medium of sport has allowed Special Olympics athletes to form new connections in the community.
“That opportunity we are providing is for people with disabilities to shine and show their potential in sports. It’s an opportunity for people with disabilities to make friends, have teammates. Team mates on the field and friends off the field. It’s an opportunity for people with disabilities to come out of their shells.”
Two of the main local sporting programs run by Special Olympics Samoa are the Monthly Games and the Mini Games.
Five sports are offered by Special Olympics Samoa including football, athletics, international cricket, bocce and power lifting. On the ground, training is provided by Samoa International Cricket, Football Federation Samoa, Powerlifting Federation Samoa and the Sports Division of the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture.
Special Olympics International provides modified rules for these organisations to work with.
Monthly Games are held alternately in Upolu and Savai’i and offers competitions in these five sports. Athletes are divided into teams according to age and ability, facilitating the formation of new friendships.
The Mini Games program allows one-on-one training for athletes in their specific sports. Conducted at the village level it has also proved a great tool for gaining community support and recruiting volunteers.
Currently there are close to one hundred youth volunteers, most of whom are unemployed. The volunteers are then up-skilled by participating in coaching workshops. From the pool of accredited volunteers, coaches are selected to accompany the athletes when they fly off to international competitions.
At the most recent World Games held in the United States of America last year the team of fifteen athletes returned with five gold medals. The next international competition is the Asia Pacific Games to be held in 2017.
The success and growth of Special Olympics Samoa, Nu’uvali credited to the way families and communities have embraced the programs.
“As a small organisation with a huge impact we couldn’t have done it without the support of the families and the communities, that’s a fact. We’ve grown from strength to strength and the office itself can’t take all the credit for it, truly, if it wasn’t for the families and the communities not to mention the donors.”
For more information on becoming a volunteer or an athlete, Special Olympics Samoa can be contacted on 29892 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
All backgrounds and fields of expertise are welcomed for the volunteer team.