Founded in 1989, Special Olympics Pakistan has served as a platform for the differently abled to display their athletic skills and nourish the athlete that resides inside each of them. For over 23 years, Special Olympics Pakistan has used sports to fight for the rights of people with intellectual disabilities. Starting off with a mere 75 athletes back in 1991, SOP now functions with over 17,000 participants registering for its National Games every year.
Special Olympics Pakistan has not only helped develop thousands of personalities and show Pakistan in a brighter light in the international sports arena, but has also constantly emphasized the importance of social acceptance and communal support for people with disabilities in general. On Sunday, 24th July, SOP provided another platform for the exchange of ideas by conducting a panel discussion, titled Inclusion Elevates All, at T2F (The Second Floor), Karachi.
Organised by SOP’s youth leaders and interns, the discussion focused on the role of civil society and youth in promoting inclusion in Pakistan. “We wanted to engage our youth, and that is where the idea came from. We wanted younger people to understand that you do not have to do something grand to bring about social change; you can do the smallest thing, like have a real conversation with someone having a disability”, remarked Sarah Amin Ali, Coordinator Program Development at SOP.
As Sunday afternoon approached, individuals from all age groups began to file inside the premises of T2F, and were welcomed by Fatima Rasheed and Ali Roshan, who served as the hosts for the day. First to take over the mic was Adil Visram, one of SOP’s special athletes. Talking about the hurdles that he has had to face owing to his physical and mental disabilities, Adil narrated how SOP helped him overcome these barriers and focus on sports such as cricket and table tennis. Eventually, Adil had gained enough skill and confidence to participate in an international competition held in China.
The floor was then opened for the panel discussion. The four panelists included Anwar Ahmed, an Educational Psychologist, Jhamandas Rathi, Director Government Special Education Complex, Farhat Rasheed, Disability Activist and businesswoman, and Sarwat Gillani, Brand Ambassador SOP and renowned TV actress.
While Mr. Ahmed enlightened the audience about what intellectual disability actually is, Mr. Rathi discussed the stance that the government has adopted to assist the differently abled children in the sector of education. Mr. Rathi also encouraged all present at the event not to marginalize students with disabilities to special schools or institutes, but instead to accept them as a part of our society and treat them like they would treat any other student.
Sarwat Gillani stressed the need for events such as Inclusion Elevates All to be covered by local media, so that mass audiences can be reached and made aware of the achievements of the amazing children who have battled against all odds in life and won, rightfully earning the title of “superstars”, which is how Gillani chose to refer to them.
Farhat Rasheed inspired the audience before even uttering a word: the wheelchair she was seated in symbolised her struggles, as well as her determined nature to not let anything get in the way of her ambitions. Rasheed made “access” the central point of her speech, and was not afraid to point out how even the venue for the panel discussion had two steps at its main entrance – and no ramp – making it a little harder for her than everyone else to make her way in. She also pointed out how most schools, owing to some ignorant minds, do not wish to grant access to children with intellectual disabilities. She went on to narrate a real life story of her friend’s son who was denied admission into school, simply because he could not wear regular school shoes due to a physical disability. However, the issue was eventually sorted out with the school and admission was granted to the young boy.
The session also welcomed Jibran Nasir, a social activist, lawyer and independent politician, as a guest speaker. The general consensus among the masses may be that the parents of an individual are fully responsible for his/her upbringing, but Jibran Nasir begged to differ. For him, the upbringing of an individual is a holistic effort that has to be made by the entire society. Hence, the mindset of the whole society should be molded in a way that enables equal opportunity for every child to make the best use of his/her talent, rather than treating him/her as an outcast.
Following the enlightening discussions, the floor was taken over by some of the children from Special Olympics, who entertained the audience by performing a dance routine, with some assistance from the volunteers. Refreshments were then served, along with an art exhibition featuring the works of Asadullah Butt and Jasmine, whose paintings did not take long to be bought by several admirers.
As the event came to a close, each person left the venue with a positive approach towards disability and the will to contribute towards a more accessible, encouraging and inclusive society. As Ronak Lakhani, Chairperson SOP, stated, “…young people are the driving force behind social change, and true inclusion can only take place if the generation of today decides that they will take measures to make public space accessible for people of all disabilities.” Watching the young members of the organising team - Zainab Usmani, Varsha Pinjani, Salik Munir, Sarah Amin Ali and Daniyal Alvi - paying close attention to every minute detail of the event, one felt reassured that Lakhani’s hopes for our society could, one day, turn into reality.
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