#ChooseToInclude


Two Mondays ago, November 6, I made a friend named Bea. We were on our way together to Sabang where an event called the “Sama-Sama Together Eco Youth Leadership Camp”, was going to take place. Along the way, we were very quiet, enjoying the scenic views and the sleepy atmosphere. I felt slightly awkward since Bea and I weren’t exactly close friends before this. But as the day wore on, we bonded over mangrove planting at the Sabang Mangrove Forest, taking the Mangrove Paddleboat Tour, and singing songs while strolling on the Sabang Wharf.

I was surprised to learn that she knew tons of songs and artists, more than I did, like Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, ABBA, Camilla Cabello, and a few more I wasn’t even aware existed. We also shared a love for High School Musical and other Disney movies, so we spent a good chunk of the day humming and singing songs we both knew. Every time I recognized a song she was singing and joined along, she would grin widely and give me a hug. She was also super confident as she helped lead the dancing in the Zumba activity after lunch, while I was too embarrassed to join, and decided to just watch and enjoy from afar. By the end of the day, I was happy that I made friends with Bea, a girl with Down Syndrome.

Bea was just one of the many “special athletes” that caught my attention at the event organized by Special Olympics Palawan, the local chapter of a worldwide non-profit organization that seeks to promote inclusion, acceptance and compassion for people with intellectual disabilities, mainly through providing sports training, competitions, and unique activities for their special athletes. I wasn’t able to get their names, but I do remember a little girl who gave her all during Zumba, not minding if she didn’t get all the moves right. There was also a duo made up of a special athlete and her partner that really stuck together and participated in all the activities, even dancing to Baby Shark together at one point. I was also proud of my partner for the day, a quiet older boy who, after I gave him a little push, was able to hold his own in a good game of volleyball. And then there were three boys who really shone when they scored goals during football and shot baskets in basketball. I used to think that people with intellectual disabilities weren’t coordinated or good at sports, but these three really proved me wrong.

I had a great time being part of an event where all these kids and teens with intellectual disabilities, or simply put “special kids,” were able to have fun, make memories, and care for the environment. And on the way, they were able to break the general perceptions of the people around them, too. All the volunteers – students, coaches and teachers, looked like they felt the same way, since they were all smiling, laughing, engaged, and having a good time.

The event gave me a preview of what Special Olympics can see the world being: more inclusive, accepting, and compassionate. They proved that people with intellectual disabilities are smart, capable, and “special” in more ways than one, that they should not be left out, but instead be included and part of making the world a better place. Everyone there – students, coaches, participants, and special athletes alike, were united together, and I am proud to have been united with them, too.

For more information, visit the Special Olympics Palawan Facebook page to join in on the fun. They are always looking for more volunteers, participants, and partners.

 

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