EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a guest post by Lion Annemarie Hill from Special Olympics.
I came across a quote that stopped me in my tracks; it was gathered by researchers studying immunization trends amongst children with disabilities in Nepal’s Makwanpur Region in 2010. A mother confided to the researcher, “God wouldn’t make my child have an intellectual disability and then give him polio.”
I’m not sure how I would have responded. It wasn’t a question as such. Yet there was something about the way she said it that demanded a response.
I believe that response came on 17 December 2016. In the Léopold Sédar Senghor Stadium in Dakar, Senegal, thousands witnessed the most marginalized members of our society, those with intellectual disabilities, play a prominent role in the Afrivac Foundation’s inaugural historic Gala Football Match. The match was held to help raise the importance of universal access to vaccinations, a cause closely linked to the efforts of Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) to close the immunization gap. Young Special Olympics athletes tightly gripped the hands of football legends, including former French national players Nicolas Anelka, Ousmane Dabo and Hervé Renard while they paraded into the stadium. Proud Lions and Leos watched as the parade of unity served as a reminder that all children, including those with intellectual disabilities, must be included in universal childhood immunization efforts if they, too, are to be given a chance to become fit, healthy sports stars.
Individuals with intellectual disabilities are at equal and oftentimes greater risk of contracting the diseases that vaccinations aim to stave off. Yet rates of immunization amongst individuals with disabilities are most often lower than that of the general population in many developed and developing nations, despite the fact that immunization rates have improved dramatically around the world.
Immunization and disability are inextricably linked and may be seen to be both a cause and consequence of the other. A child may develop an intellectual disability as a result of a disease that may have been avoided by a vaccination – or another preventative health intervention – and a child with an intellectual disability may be deprived access to immunizations because of his or her disability. This is sometimes because of the naivety of the child’s mother and sometimes due to a variety of environmental factors including adverse policies, negative attitudes, a lack of accessible services, inadequate resources, and a dangerous combination of stigma, ignorance, and prejudice.
Special Olympics and LCIF are working hard to change this. In ways big and small, and as a key partner of Gavi, LCIF has led the way in ensuring that Special Olympics athletes and all individuals with intellectual disabilities have the same access to immunizations and vaccines so that a healthy and fulfilling life can be shared by all.
Known primarily as a global organization that provides sports opportunities for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, Special Olympics also represents the world’s largest public health screening program for individuals with intellectual disabilities. With the support of LCIF, Special Olympics holds forums to provide valuable health education to families including promoting immunizations, working with partners to improve access to health resources, and advocating to governments worldwide to provide services and opportunities for all citizens in their countries. To achieve this, Special Olympics uses sports as a tool to unite, educate, include, advocate and, through partnerships like the one with LCIF, to vaccinate too.
Ensuring universal access to immunizations is a team sport. Leading partners like LCIF have positioned both the Special Olympics movement and Special Olympics athletes to win both on and off the field. Special Olympics is committed to working with governments and partner organizations including LCIF to ensure that the most vulnerable among us be included in the immunization game plan and emerge as players rather than spectators.
On 17 December, Special Olympics athletes were just that – players. Through a partnership with Speak Up Africa and Africa United, an innovative pan-African initiative led by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and the African Union, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, World Bank Group, CDC Foundation and celebrities, individuals with intellectual disabilities performed as drum majorettes to the cheers of the crowd. In a display of inclusive sport, two Special Olympics Unified football teams each comprising equal numbers of youth with and without intellectual disabilities played together in a curtain-raiser game to the final. Supportive Leos served as ball boys and cheered on the athletes. Energetic adolescents showed off their skills and reminded us that immunization campaigns should not be limited to children, but rather extended across the lifespan to include protecting adolescents and adults against life-threatening diseases such as influenza, meningitis, and cancer.
When the game drew to a close, the 25,000-strong crowd flooded through the stadium gates equipped with greater knowledge on the importance of immunizations, and a commitment to maintaining their health and that of their children. The message that vaccines are an effective, low-risk, and inexpensive means of preventing many serious diseases in all children and adults was heard loud and clear across Dakar. Now it is our collective responsibility – through partnerships between Special Olympics, Africa Unite, Lions Clubs International Foundation and many more – to ensure that that message reaches families in all corners of this world, including Nepal.
Special Olympics International
Lions Clubs International Foundation has been partnering with Special Olympics International since 2001. To learn more about Special Olympics and the work they do around the world, visit their website.
Meet Leo Deborah of Düsseldorf-Rheinmetropole Leo Club (Germany). Deborah will speak at this year’s Lions Day with the United Nations on March 4, 2017 on issues related to refugees and inclusion. Interested in hearing Leo Deborah speak at LDUN? Register by clicking the button below.
The best part of being a Leo is that charity and leadership get a new perspective. Getting your hands dirty and redecorating an orphanage with your Leo friends is an indescribable feeling. As a Leo, I have the possibility to change things and further develop leadership skills by going out of my comfort zone.
We are all affected by the refugee crisis, no matter where we live or how much contact we actually have with refugees. As human beings, it is our duty to support those who are in need and give importance to every single person’s life. The life of a child who is fleeing from the war in Syria matters as much as the life of a child who is safe and sound in Germany. Together, we can address the refugee crisis took if we start recognize the importance of all lives and cooperate.
There are many different activities organized by European Leos to support refugees. We collect groceries and clothes for families; we show new refugees our cities and help them become oriented. Unfortunately, the government makes it sometimes challenging to support refugees since policies make refugees change places too soon to acclimate in their new area. But Leos in Europe do their best to make all refugees feel welcome, wherever they can!
First of all, don’t be afraid of leaving your comfort zone and try something new! It is so easy to help. You can organize a “sports and fun” day with some refugee children. The children are so grateful, and it is so important to provide them a childhood with games and fun. Or you can teach refugees your language. I did it several times, and it was really fun. You even learn some things as well.
I am excited to give refugees a voice at the United Nations and to show the great work Leos in Europe do. European Leos can serve as role models for young people. We can show them that service is fun, and together, we can make an impact!
The Lions Clubs of Belgium have received an inaugural Golisano Health Award, given to them by the leadership of Special Olympics Belgium. The Lions of Belgium and SO Belgium have shared a vibrant national partnership since 2010, focused on improving the quality of health services offered to individuals with intellectual disabilities.
The Golisano Foundation is one of the largest private foundations in the United States devoted exclusively to supporting programs for people with intellectual disabilities. The Golisano Health Award is bestowed upon leaders in the health field for Special Olympics.
Council Chairman Remy Huwaert of Multiple District 112 accepted the award from Piet Steel, president of Special Olympics Belgium. [pictured above]
“We are incredibly grateful for the support that the Lions Clubs of Belgium provide to our athletes across Belgium every year, and even more honored to bestow upon them this unique distinction,” says David Evangelista, acting president and managing director of Special Olympics Europe-Eurasia.
Congratulations to the Lions of Belgium on this prestigious recognition!
Mission: Inclusion is the global partnership between Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) and Special Olympics. Since 2001, Special Olympics has partnered with Lions around the world to provide health education to families and caretakers of individuals with intellectual disabilities.
Lions around the world support the growth of Opening Eyes (LCIF’s vision care partnership program with Special Olympics) engage Leo youth volunteers in inclusive sports, host family health forums and support the creation of Special Olympics-focused Lions Clubs integrating athletes into local Lions Clubs.
At Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF), fighting measles is one of our greatest humanitarian efforts. Measles is a real concern, especially in underdeveloped parts of the world. Over 400 people die from measles each day. It is especially dangerous for young children, being the leading cause of death in children under the age of five. While obtaining the measles vaccination shot might not be feasible for some, giving the vaccination shot is so easy for those who have the ability to give. The vaccination only costs one U.S. dollar per shot. With a 100% match from our partners, Gavi, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and UK Aid, Past International President (PIP) Joe Preston and his wife Joni set a goal of collecting enough money to vaccinate 10,000 children through their Facebook fundraiser. Their goal was to raise US$5,000 during the fundraiser which started on Giving Tuesday (November 29, 2016) and ended on the last day of the year (December 31, 2016). After collecting the money through Facebook and receiving donation checks sent to LCIF, PIP Joe Preston and Joni have exceeded their goal! A grand total of US$5,163 was collected. Since our partners are matching the donations dollar for dollar, 10,326 children will now be able to get a potentially life-saving measles vaccination. In the words of PIP Joe Preston, “What a great holiday gift, saving the lives of 10,000 needy children.” Thank you to PIP Joe Preston, Joni, our partners, and all of the donors that made this fundraiser successful.
To support our measles initiatives, donate today.
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