Boost for Special Olympics athletes

By Greg Mulemi

Kenyan athletes living with intellectual disabilities are poised to enjoy better facilities in schools after Golisano Foundation marked the country for its Special Olympics Healthy Community Initiative.

Shunned by society and plagued by less than supportive public utilities, people with intellectual disabilities face significant challenges accessing quality health care, resulting in pronounced health disparities and reduced life expectancy. They have fallen victim to secondary health conditions such as impaired vision that renders their lives more difficult. Health complications have shattered dreams of hundreds of Kenyan athletes living with intellectual disability.

Most die 16 years younger than the general population, but they die from the same conditions as everyone else – cardiovascular disease,cancer, infectious diseases. Despite severe need and higher health risks, people with ID are often unable to access basic health care.

Because of the growing indifference shown by the government, the task of providing access to health services for people with intellectual disabilities has fallen largely on non governmental organizations and private organizations.

Special Olympics Kenya has been working with several organizations including the Golisano Foundation, one of the largest private foundations in the United States devoted exclusively to supporting programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,to help address this challenge and help athletes achieve their goals not only on the playing field, but in life.

Speaking during her first ever tour in Kenya, Ann Costello, Executive Director of the Golisano Foundation, emphasized the importance for athletes with intellectual disabilities having first priority when it comes to matters of health.

“Our Foundation is devoted exclusively to helping people with intellectual disabilities by supporting organizations such as Special Olympics, and we feel that they have tremendous reach and ability to help improve health for athletes with intellectual disabilities,” she said.

According to Costello, it is difficult for athletes with intellectual disabilities to access health care not only in Kenya, but even in the United States. In 2012, businessman and philanthropist Tom Golisano committed $12 million over four years towards launching the Special Olympics Healthy Communities initiative.

The goal was to create communities in eight countries and six U.S. States where Special Olympics athletes and other people with intellectual disabilities have the same access to health and wellness resources and services – and can attain the same level of good health– as all members of the community. In 2015, the Golisano Foundation further expanded its support with a $25 million gift to grow Special
Olympics’ health work, including scaling the Healthy Communities model to 100 Special Olympics Programs by 2020. This gift is not only the largest received by Special Olympics, but it is also the largest single gift ever given by Tom Golisano.

“It’s been seven years since we partnered with Special Olympics to launch Healthy Communities. Through this program, we give grants to countries and regions to help families and athletes deal with health issues, everything from proper nutrition, sports fitness to health education. Educating the parents on the importance of good health for
their loved ones with intellectual disabilities is very important. Often people with intellectual disabilities are sidelined and forgotten,” added Costello.

Having interacted with athletes with intellectual disabilities and their parents in Kajiado County, Costello observed the need to expand Special Olympics’ programs in Kenya to ensure athletes are getting the
proper health attention they need.

“Our program in Kenya is in its fifth year now and from the good workwe have witnessed, we are going to make plans on how to expand this
program. We have a wonderful Special Olympics program here in Kenya. It’s not just a model for Africa but for the whole world and I believe
the athletes deserve the best.”

Special Olympics Regional Director Charles Nyambe lauded the Golisano Foundation for always supporting the health of Special Olympics athletes and choosing to support Kenya.

“Special Olympics Kenya is one of the best programs we have in Africa.We have seen them shine in their competitions and I think partnering with the Golisano Foundation is a big boost to our athletes.”

Families of Special Olympics athletes who converged at Kajado County’s Nkaimurunya Primary School, a beneficiary institution of the Golisano Foundation, lauded the health programming provided by Special
Olympics, stating how Healthy Communities has improved their children’s health.

“We have really benefited from this health forums . Right now we as parents know how to handle our children who are intellectual disabled. We have seen great improvement. Some of them couldn’t do anything, but now they even participate in games . Others run , play football and basketball . We promise to work in hand with Special Olympics
Kenya to ensure that our athletes receive health care and also help them to get to other children who have been hidden by there parents in the community.” said a parent of a teenage athlete living with ID

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