From the Presidential Office to the Remotest Villages
Her Excellency President Joyce Banda of the Republic of Malawi has proven herself to be a vocal champion for people with intellectual disabilities. She has led the charge for more inclusion in her country's laws and participated at both the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting and the 2013 Special Olympics Global Development Summit in Korea.
Presidential Call for Unity
“This is a population that has gone without for far too long,” she proclaimed during the summit in Korea. “It is our obligation to expose injustice and right what is wrong. An inclusionary approach is essential to sustainable development, which must be development for all.” Read HE Banda’s entire remarks.
In Malawi, words like these are more than just window dressing; they’re policy. In her first 100 days in office, Banda passed the Malawi Disability Act, and the country has created a ministry dedicated to people with disabilities and aligned itself to comply with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which it ratified on 27 August 2009.
During the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in September 2013, Banda committed Malawi to hosting the first-ever "African Leaders Forum on Intellectual Disability” in February 2014.
In 2012, Malawi was named one of the very first Special Olympics Healthy Communities, in recognition of its outstanding work with Healthy Athletes and the Program’s ability and willingness to do more. It has already begun to live up to this higher standard. In April, volunteer health care providers braved rainstorms to reach Special Olympics athletes in eight remote villages and provide health services. Some of the athletes had never visited a doctor before! Other innovative projects have included adoption of UNICEF hand-washing lessons, the creation of an athlete-led vegetable garden and a family health forum for caregivers.
The Special Olympics Youth Athletes program recently expanded its reach as well. Previously offered only in the central region of Malawi, volunteers this year have pushed out into the northern region and plan to offer events in the southern part of the country in the future. Currently, more than 400 young athletes and 500 family members participate.
Thanks to support from the Christmas Records Grants made possible because of funds raised through sales of the annual “A Very Special Christmas” albums, Special Olympics Malawi has also expanded its sports programming in the last couple of years – more than doubling the number of involved family members, tripling the number of local competitions, introducing a third sport (basketball), and training 24 athletes in the Athlete Leadership Program.
Impact on Athletes
Behind all the numbers are athletes whose lives are being forever changed for the better. Aaron is a nine-year-old boy from Malawi who was found tied to a tree outside his home by Special Olympics volunteers in 2011, given the severe lack of social protection, services and resources available to his parents. A little over a year later, Aaron has begun to show positive signs of physical and social development, and has been assigned a special needs teacher that continues to help Aaron and his family. He has even been given access to a local primary school, that he visits weekly together with his teacher. While the road will be a long one for Aaron and his family, this critical journey has begun.
Partnerships make it Possible
As with many countries worldwide, Malawi has limited resources for individuals with intellectual disabilities, making partnerships with other organizations critical to the success of Special Olympics. Lions Clubs International is a long-time global supporter, and made history in May by forming the first-ever national partnership agreement in Africa with Special Olympics Malawi. Lions Clubs has committed to providing follow up eye health services through hospitals in Lilongwe and Blantyre, volunteers for events, and support for Family Health Forums.
UNICEF works with Special Olympics in Malawi to provide key access to government ministries, support in research and data collection, and overall advice on program delivery.
UNICEF and Special Olympics, together with the Malawi government, will launch the much-anticipated UNICEF State of the World’s Children Report, the UN agency’s flagship publication, focused on the plight facing children with disabilities, and create the first ever African Head of State Summit on Intellectual Disabilities. Children and adults with intellectual disabilities in Malawi are looking toward a brighter future.
“Change will take political will, and in my country, that starts with me,” Banda said.
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