Friday, September 24, 2010

Continuing to Harvest New Opportunities in China

Last night, I attended the “Mid-Autumn Festival” with Special Olympics athletes competing in the 5th annual China National Games. This celebration, a national holiday in China, takes place on the autumnal equinox, the night of the year when the moon is at its fullest and roundest. It is a celebration of harvest time and an occasion for feasting, and I cannot think of a more fitting time to celebrate all of the accomplishments of the Special Olympics Program in China and the “harvest” of new programs and facilities that have been created for our athletes here.

In Fuzhou alone, the number of Special Olympics athletes has increased ten-fold from 2,000 to 20,000 in the past two years, thanks in large part to the construction the Fujian Sports Management Center for the Disabled. Another enduring legacy of these games is the construction of over 130 “sunshine homes” in the Fujian Province, which provide education and employment opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities. The changing perceptions of people within Chinese society is also evident in the recent creation of “Special Love,” a feature length film created in honor of the China National Games, which challenges traditional stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities by portraying the transformational relationship of a young Chinese professional and a boy with intellectual disabilities and their mutual interest in basketball.

Throughout China, these games have undoubtedly encouraged greater acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities, and this year alone, Special Olympics China is slated to reach over 1 million athletes. And yet, I am reminded of how much more work there is to be done in improving the quality of life for people with intellectual disabilities in China and achieving their full inclusion and empowerment in education, employment, and society. Our movement is characterized by a restless dissatisfaction with the status quo, and while we applaud SO China for the tremendous strides in the past few years, and we look forward to the continued progress toward greater acceptance and inclusion.

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