Attending the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles was a great way to begin the journey around the world for Down Syndrome Everywhere! In seven days, I saw Down Syndrome people from at least one hundred countries. I talked to some, took pictures with others, smiled conspiratorially with those who had that mischief in their eyes and generally thumbs-upped them all.
For seven days I was immersed in support and acceptance, not only of those with intellectual disabilities, but of me and what I want to say about Down Syndrome people. Everyone should be so lucky to feel this way.
But, the World Games are not only about fun and sport. There are serious planning and strategy sessions occurring all week long. Behind the scenes, in the conference and meeting rooms, progress is being assessed and measured, brainstorming sessions are underway and groundbreaking and ambitious goals are being set. It is amazing to realize the amount of work that is going on around the world to improve the lives of everyone through acceptance and inclusion.
One of the highlights for me was being invited to attend the Special Olympics Middle East/North Africa (SOMENA) regional meeting. I met Mr. Ayman Wahab, the Regional President & Managing Director of SOMENA, who readily and graciously opened his meeting to me and gave me the chance to connect with the delegations.
This was perfect because as a teenager I was lucky to live for a time in Kuwait, and I often reminisce about the experiences I had. The sites and sounds and smells, the people, and especially the food will stay with me forever. So, when the Head of Delegation for Iran broke out the authentic Iranian pistachios, I couldn’t help but feel that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
There are a few things I learned at this meeting, though it was mostly in Arabic and I could only pick out the few words that I have not forgotten.
The most important message that I want to share is that there are tremendously good people in every country who are doing projects that are invaluable to the health and happiness of other people. Yes, there is ongoing, and what seems like perpetual, conflict in this part of the world. Yes, this area of the world is one of the harshest for people with intellectual disabilities. We all know the problems of governments and those in power.
But, everyone should also know that there are children, adults and families, even in countries of severe hardship such as Syria and Palestine, who are trying to make the world around them better. And, they are doing it through acceptance, inclusion and sports. There are twenty Special Olympics events in Syria this year. Who knew? When all we see is the bad, the war, the suffering, the injustice, we don’t realize that there are others who are fighting a different war–one that has love and caring as its main offensive. They are on the front lines of the revolution of the heart.
It may seem like this revolution is at best silent, at worst failing, but I know this is completely untrue.
In the short term, my little project, or even the global movement of the Special Olympics, is not likely to solve the overwhelming problems faced by the people of these countries. But every time they all sit in a room together, every time they see each other’s humanity, and every time they find a common goal–people with intellectual disabilities–there is another battle won. Seven days in Los Angeles will multiply the goodwill, the good feelings, and the positive messages exponentially, around the world. You may not see it on the TV news, read it in the paper or on a popular website, but it happens just the same. Minds are changed. Hearts are opened. One person at a time.
#DownSyndromeEverywhere #DownSyndrome #RevolutionoftheHeart