As many of you may remember, this past summer I helped volunteer at Special Olympics Albania alongside many awesome Albanian volunteers. The Albanian volunteers and Peace Corps volunteers worked together to make the participants’ experience one to remember. Special Olympics Albania is starting a new initiative this spring called Project UNIFY.
What is Project UNIFY?
Project UNIFY is an initiative through Special Olympics that aims to bring together youth and people with intellectual disabilities through sports and education programs. All the participants come together and unify through sports and other projects. Everyone is equal on the game field. Project UNIFY works with students to develop skills as change agents in their communities to begin advocating for those with intellectual disabilities. The program works with schools to develop youth leadership, community collaborations, communications, professional development, unifying programming, and sustainable relationships. Through inclusive sports and programming friendships are formed amongst all participants creating an environment of respect, dignity, and advocacy for all.
Project UNIFY in Albania
The program has been around for seven years and is just coming to Albania. The pilot program in Albania is focusing on two schools in Tirana, the country capital. During Spring break last week, students from the high school were invited to a short 3-hour training to learn more about the program and benefits of participating in unified sporting events. The students learned about Project UNIFY, appropriate terminology when working with people with intellectual disabilities, and brainstormed ideas on how to include all people within community activities. Another Peace Corps volunteer and I were invited to share our volunteer experiences from this past summer with the students. We also helped facilitate some of the small group work during the training.
Later on in the year, these two pilot schools, alongside Peace Corps volunteers, will come together with people with intellectual disabilities for unified sporting games. I am hoping their will be a possibility to include the youth group at my site in some of these games. The sports that were offered during the last Special Olympics games included basketball, table tennis, bowling, and soccer. These same sports will also be part of the Project UNIFY programming. After the initial games, Project UNIFY aims to have students and their communities begin grass-roots games to continue the initiative in their neighborhoods.
To learn more about Special Olympics Albania visit their Facebook page.