If you’re unsure how to engage youth with special needs through your work as a Peace Corps volunteer, local associations are a good place to start. Tata, my site, is not a very big town, but it does have the Association Al Amal for People with Disabilities. I noticed the association during my first blistering July in Tata. Typical for associations during the summer, the door was shut every time I went past, and there were no signs of life whenever I stopped by to bang on the door or creepily peer through the windows. Around my fifth time knocking on the door, though, a passerby spotted me and informed me that the association’s president would probably be there later that afternoon.
In Ifrane from September 25-29, 2013 Peace Corps had the opportunity to participate in the Moroccan Special Olympics. The Games were held at Al Akhawayn University. Thirty Peace Corps Volunteers were invited to join with other volunteers to assist in the Olympics. The Games featured over 1000 athletes with special needs. The athletes ages ranged from preteen through adults. Beginning with the opening ceremonies it was apparent the Games were truly a special occasion for everyone. As the crowds loudly applauded every group marching into the stadium it set the tone that this was an experience that will always be remembered. Peace Corps Volunteers assisted coordinators to successfully conduct each event. Competitions were held in track/field, soccer, swimming, equestrian, weight lifting, basketball, cycling, ping pong, and tennis. Watching the athletes compete was an enriching experience. They really put their hearts into it. When the athletes received their medals there was pure joy in their faces. PCVS lived with the athletes and other volunteers in different Olympic Villages. For the PCVS this allowed new friendships to be made and the chance for the athletes to interact with Americans. At the conclusion of the Games there were many tears, pictures, laughs, and hugs. In Ifrane for three days in September the true spirit of the Olympic movement was achieved.
I met Fatima, a little girl with Down’s syndrome, at our summer camp in August. She arrived with her mom, and was a bit shy initially. We became fast friends after I sat with her and repeated the directions for activities. Sometimes, I just stayed with her and tried to engage her in some simple questions. I noticed that she repeated everything I said, rather than answered me.
To determine where Fatima might be developmentally, I checked out her understanding of numbers, colors, simple objects, relevant places, people and objects.
I spent a little time with her when she came to camp, but thought it would be good for her to play with other kids. However, she was mostly alone, or staring at kids when she sat next to them.