In honor of the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games taking place in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates from March 14 – March 21, here’s how Grassroot Soccer and Special Olympics partner together to bring SKILLZ For Life and reflections from the incredible Special Olympics athletes.
Grassroot Soccer (GRS) has partnered with Special Olympics since 2009, when we first worked with Special Olympics Namibia. We started partnering with Special Olympics Nigeria in 2013 and Special Olympics South Africa in 2015. The relationship that Grassroot Soccer has with Special Olympics spans far beyond just the curriculum: it is an integrated 3A’s approach. GRS has collaborated on a dynamic, one-of-a-kind program that supports Special Olympics to deeply understand how service providers can support people with intellectual disability (PWID) and how families/communities can gain access to PWID-friendly youth services in their countries and continue to access those services over time.
In Nigeria, SKILLZ For Life, which is generously funded by ExxonMobil, is a series of soccer-based informational practices aimed at empowering people with intellectual disability with HIV and malaria prevention knowledge. SKILLZ For Life Athletes are females and males aged 8-30. People with intellectual disability are especially vulnerable to HIV infection and malaria because they are at a higher risk of sexual abuse and are often excluded from health education programs. The SKILLZ For Life program is the first known HIV and malaria education program that uses sport to directly target people with intellectual disability in Nigeria. SKILLZ is a culture, mind-set, and toolkit for Special Olympics peer educators to use when teaching young people about HIV/AIDS, malaria, and life skills. SKILLZ creates simple and powerful connections between soccer and life. The SKILLZ approach helps young people have relevant and important discussions about life, take steps toward achieving their goals, stay strong when faced with challenges, and protect themselves and others from HIV/AIDS and malaria.
SKILLZ For Life consists of 6, 60-minute sessions and a graduation. To graduate, a participant must attend at least 4 out of 6 sessions. After completing a 5-day GRS training workshop and Special Olympics training on working with people with intellectual disabilities, SKILLZ For Life Coaches work in pairs to deliver SKILLZ For Life sessions with approximately 15 Special Olympics Athletes and Partners.
Oftentimes, the service providers that Special Olympics links its athletes and their families with through the SKILLZ For Life program are the only service providers in the country who are PWID-friendly. Both of the SKILLZ For Life curricula in South Africa and Nigeria have undergone formal external evaluations with positive results for achievement of the 3A’s and uptake of health services. GRS spent years revising, piloting, and assessing the SKILLZ For Life curricula and visual resource alongside researchers and academics who were experts on PWID and youth with intellectual disabilities in order to create a unique program that uses quite a different curriculum and implementation structure from Grassroot Soccer’s standard SKILLZ curricula for other partners, communities, and geographies.
Congratulations and good luck to all the incredible athletes competing in the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games!