It is more important to participate than to win; nothing embodies this Olympics slogan than the Special Olympics. The games are more about participants well being than winning or losing, writes Edna Kivuva
His innocent smile, long gaze in the air, a few incoherent words, immense energy in the field and intense concentration to the coach, will definitely attract your attention. Mr Ronak Sachania is among the special athlete's training in floor hockey and football in order to be selected to represent Kenya in the world winter Special Olympics in South Korea come January next year.
His mother Ranjan Sachania, the vice chairperson in the committee for Down Syndrome society of Kenya, admits that whether a child is normal or special; parents will always face challenges raising them. However if the child is special like hers who has Down syndrome, their appreciation of the community depends on how a parent accepts them first.
“This games have made Ronak more confident, interactive with other children and he is always looking forward to Saturdays so that he can train with the other athletes”, she confirms.
The nineteen year old has down syndrome, but this does not deter him from realizing his dream of becoming an engineer. Ronak is pursuing a Diploma in electrical and electronics at SOS Children’s’ Villages Kenya College in Buruburu.
“I have been getting good reports from Ronak’s teachers, but the greatest challenge to him is that he cannot learn the theory part but can only do the vocational bit of the course. He has learnt a lot and can fix electrical appliances at home when they break down”, Ms Ranjan Sachania reminisces.
She admits that Parklands is far from Buruburu making transport expensive, thus she has to part with Ksh. 600 daily to hire a motorbike to take Ronak to college and fetch him in the evening.
Ms Sachania who is the coordinator for parents support at the Kenya Special Olympics confesses that Ronak did not qualify to join the team going to the special world competitions. But she always ensures he comes for trainings every Saturday at the University of Nairobi grounds; “I hope next time he will be part of the next world competitions.”
“We always take Ronak to the temple with us, because he loves music and dancing. We also go to the malls with him because we love him, he is our only child and everywhere we go people just love him” she says jovially.
Ms Sachania plans to open up a shop dealing with electrical and electronic appliances in future where she hopes to incorporate her son. “I want him to be totally independent financially by the time he is thirty so that he can make his own decisions in life”, she asserts.
Kenya Special Olympics Games Manager
The Games Manager at Kenya Special Olympics (KSO) Ms Susan Muinde encourages parents with children special needs to bring them for games. She affirms that when the parents get them to mingle with others it helps them to be social, calm and disciplined due to the rules in sports.
“It is so unfortunate that some people call people who are intellectually challenged; machizi, havuti waya, amefiatu, and worse in our local languages. Yet there is so much that people with special needs can achieve if supported”, she acknowledges.
Ms Sachania says that his son is very keen about everything he does, he is neat, and very independent. She notes that Ronak is currently going through a financial training so that he can know how to manage his money beside his Diploma course in electrical electronics. She can send him to the shop and be assured he will bring the correct change.
“I have realized that if you give Ronak a chance to learn, he is able to do it without any assistance and when you give him a gift, no matter how small he really appreciates. I call him my gift from God, whenever I go everyone wants to meet him because I am proud of him” she enthuses.
Last year the Kenya team brought several medals from the World Summer Special Olympic Games in Greece. They were able to get 21 gold medals, 13 silver medals and 1 bronze medal which was a great triumph.
Ms Muinde states that this year they have slotted the floor hockey games because most of the other games are in-door and they require ice like skating, skiing, among others which we do not have in Kenya.
“We have innovated local sticks and packs, which we have given to various clubs practicing floor hockey, we have challenges with the equipment and training grounds. But we are hoping as we near the winter games we will access an appropriate ground to train because we want to win gold”, Muinde hopes.
Ms Muinde highlights that in October they will be pioneers in the first Africa Regional Special Games to compete for the unified cup to be held in South Africa. They have entered a unified football team for both those with and without intellectual disability, and they are expecting to win.
In September the Kenya Special Olympics team will be taking a swimming team to Puerto-Rico for an aquatic competition which is the only sport they will be participating in.
“We have health screening for our team to check whether our athletes are in good health because we realized that their health needs are at times neglected. We are going to have five screenings done by qualified doctors who are also trained by Kenya Special Olympics to cater for persons with special needs,” emphasized Ms Muinde.
It is more important to participate
The Special Olympics coach Mr Joshua Agare, articulates that for one to qualify to be a good athlete, discipline is required. He believes that everyone is a winner, the fact that one has made an attempt means they have tried and this to him is good enough.
“Our slogan is that we are winners and if we do not win at least we made an attempt”, Agare reiterates. Special Olympics does not focus on winning ribbons or medals. The fact that one has participated is enough to make one a hero.
Mr Agare who is a former participant of the Special Olympic Games has won several medals; in 1995 he won two gold and one silver medals, while last year he won a silver medal in handball.
Kenya Special Olympics started in 1978 and prides in being the oldest in Africa. The games started in the special schools that we have in the country.