With a grant of $1M, Special Olympics Bharat empowers specially-abled athletes through Mission Inclusion Bharat


Enabling grassroots programmes in the areas of global health, inclusive sports, family education, and early childhood development, Mission Inclusion Bharat brings service, support and inclusive programmes for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

A tally of 73 medals at the Special Olympics World Winter Games and a total of over 1,062 medals over a span of 28-odd years — this is the track record of Special Olympic (SO) Bharat who have done the nation proud, time and again. Yet, India’s specially-abled athletes have failed to get due recognition. Further, funding and extending the programme to the masses often poses a key challenge to them.

To bridge this gap, Lions Club International and Special Olympics Bharat launched a national partnership, Mission Inclusion Bharat — a platform for inclusive sports programmes — on August 21. The partnership aims to service and support programmes for individuals with intellectual disabilities as part of a multilateral commitment to forge full social inclusion. Further, Aruna Oswal, Founder of Aruna Abhey Oswal Trust, committed $1,000,000 to help create and expand the programme over an initial three-year term.

Mary Davis, CEO at Special Olympics Inc, says,

“This grant will enable SO Bharat to deepen their work through Mission Inclusion. I can see great developments in the Healthy Athlete, Young Athlete, and Unified Sports programme. This will also give an opportunity to the families to learn how they can provide healthier lifestyle to their sons and daughters.”
L-R - Dr (Cmdr) Kartikay Saini, Chairman, Special Olympics Bharat, Ms. Mary Davis Chief Executive Officer, Special Olympics, Inc, Chancellor Bob Corlew Chairperson, Lions Clubs International Foundation

Financial aid serves multiple purpose

Mission Inclusion Bharat aims to become a nodal point for inclusive growth at the rural level. Through the partnership, the organisations will implement grassroots programmes in the areas of global health, inclusive sports, family education, and early childhood development.

“Through the national partnership programme, we celebrate a renewed focus towards mobilising volunteers and local communities nationwide to support Special Olympics athletes- both on and off the field of play. The Mission Inclusion platform commits to bringing services and support to over 50,000 individuals, as well as increasing the public visibility of disability inclusion among media outlets,” says Aruna Abhey Oswal.

The project advocates for an increase in efforts in activating, promoting, and solidifying strong community-based participation. The initiative seeks to expand inclusive development platform across India to benefit children and adults with intellectual disabilities. This in turn, will empower their families and communities, thereby inviting more participation and opportunities.

“The funding will get more opportunities for me to engage in unified activities and I am looking forward to them. At first, I was studying in a normal school but then I had to go to a special school as I was unable to cope with studies. My parents were not happy and they were hiding it from everyone. Then I took part in Special Olympics and won many medals. My parents began accepting me. It made them very happy,” says 27-year-old Neha Naik, who represents India in the 100 metres and shot-put events.

(L-R) Ms.Mary Davis, CEO Special Olympics Inc., Neha Naik, Global Ambassador Special Olympics, Mrs. Aruna Oswal Founder of Aruna Abhey Oswal Trust and Director Lions Club International

A new lease of life

Using sports as a catalyst, the SO Bharat team’s main aim is to transform the lives of children and adults who are intellectually disabled. Through the support of SO Bharat, Neha served as the Special Olympics International Global Messenger (IGM) in 2014 and participated in the Athlete Leadership Programme and training. She says,

“Special Olympics made me independent and confident. People accepted me and encouraged me. I felt very important whenever I won medals. I knew I was a good athlete and that I could compete with other athletes. My family was so proud of me. They told friends and relatives about my achievements in Special Olympics. I felt they were including me in their lives.”

As an IGM, Neha had the opportunity to travel to Morocco, Washington DC, Greece, South Korea, Singapore, and Thailand. She also had the privilege to meet former US President Barack Obama at the White House. “I have made many friends too. People were excited and happy for me. Special Olympics helped me grow as an individual and gave me a sense of human dignity,” she adds.

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Mission Inclusion Bharat will enable a support system to empower athletes to overcome their limitations and help them to become confident. In addition, the partnership will elevate the problems faced by this marginalised population to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Nations.

Unified Sports must be encouraged for cultivating sensitivity, acceptance, unity and bravery among the youth; this national partnership is perhaps the stepping stone towards an inclusive India.

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