Children with an Alive & Kicking ball

Posts tagged ‘Cotonou’

Special Olympics: Healthy Athletes

Our highlight Special Olympics event in Benin is a gathering of intellectually challenged athletes, their parents, Special Olympics coaches, administrators and 20 plus volunteers for a free healthy athletes medical screening followed by a Unified Football match.

Volunteers with The Ball
Volunteers with The Ball

The Minister of Sport arrives late (not unusual for dignitaries anywhere) but the screening can’t wait for him (and nor should it).

The waiting - only so long you can wait for a Minister
Waiting for the Minister to arrive

The doctors, nurses, volunteers, parents and athletes have limited time and all the athletes need to be screened. That is the priority. Athletes’ eyes are tested (Opening Eyes) and where necessary prescription glasses are ordered for them.

Healthy Eyes
Healthy Eyes

Athletes’ teeth are checked (Special Smiles), where necessary dental appointments are made and each athlete receives a tooth brush and a tube of toothpaste.

Beautiful Smiles
Special Smiles

Athletes’ have their ability to listen checked (Healthy Hearing) and appointments made with specialists. Athletes are given a thorough medical examination (Med Fest) and provided with healthy, locally-produced food (avocados, apples, oranges and pineapples) to take home.

Healthy food is distributed to the athletes
Healthy food is distributed to the athletes

Special Olympics trains doctors, nurses, dentists and volunteers so that they can learn how to work with special needs people. After the screening, the Special Olympics community comes together on the field of the national football stadium — Stade de l’Amitié — for a game of Unified Football after which everyone signs The Ball.

Special Olympics girls team kicks The Ball about
A Special Olympics girls team kicks The Ball about

Athletes and The Ball in the Stadium
Athletes and The Ball in the Stadium

Special Olympics athletes in Benin with The Ball
Special Olympics athletes in Benin with The Ball

In countries like Benin, where there are inadequate resources for the provision of public health-care, Special Olympics is offering free health-care to intellectually challenged athletes. Healthy Athletes is an important programme and we are honoured to be there.

Visit to Social Rehabilition Center

We visit the Centre de Promotion Sociale Cotonou — a social rehabilitation center set-up in 1992 and funded by the Beninese Ministry of Family, Social Protection and Solidarity. The welcome is fantastic — intellectually challenged children and their parents and teachers of the school sing and dance — welcoming us into their center.

Welcome to our center
Welcome to our center

This education center acts as a stepping stone for intellectually challenged children, aiming to help them find places in schools and liaising with their families to build a supportive home base. Special Olympics Benin is one of the center’s partners. Two Special Olympics coaches lead sports sessions on Mondays and Wednesdays every week and on Saturdays they run training sessions at the national stadium.

All hands on The Ball
All hands on The Ball

Special Olympics also run their healthy athletes screening, where doctors and dentists come to the center twice a year and run complete
medical checks. Children receive free dental care and are supplied with reading glasses if they need them. All of this is funded through donations to Special Olympics. The presentation of The Ball evokes great interest and every single person at the center (intellectually challenged or not) kicks or heads and signs The Ball, then it is time for a kick-about. It is much too hot for football so the game doesn’t last long.

One of the children took a special liking to The Ball and didn’t want to let go…

My Ball
My Ball

Even the youngest members of the center signed The Ball

Young signitries
Young signatories

They sang a touching farewell song as we left the center

Waves goodbye

The memories will last much longer and the smiles on the faces of everyone are a testimony to the fabulous work being done by Special Olympics and to the magnetism and magic of The Ball.

Ball Protection

As carriers of The Ball, we realize that we have a huge responsibility to ensure that this one ball makes it all the way to South Africa. Imagine, The Ball is lost or stolen, what are we going to do? The Ball has 6000 unique signatures on it and about one hundred stamps from the 18 countries visited so far. We MUST get this one ball safely to the World Cup.

Ball protection Benin style
Regular police officers keeping an eye on The Ball

Starting in Togo, securing The Ball and its carriers became a priority for our partners and even a matter of national pride. “God forbid if anything happens to The Ball in our country”, might aptly describe what our hosts were thinking. This was especially understandable in Togo, where the nation had recently suffered the national tragedy of a terrorist attack on the Togolese national football team in Angola. Benin seems to have gone one step further.

Crossing into Benin we find out that two national guard policemen have been assigned to protect The Ball and that The Ball requires a police escort at all times.

The Ball's protectors
Andrew and The Ball’s protectors

A ball protector
The Ball requires a police escort at all times in Benin

Andrew’s dad used to give him a great piece of advice regarding being in possession of a ball in a dangerous situation — “If in doubt, kick it out”, he used to say. There isn’t much chance of that happening in Benin.

The Ball 2014 left England on 9th Jan 2014 and headed to the World Cup in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The Ball 2010 left England on 24th Jan 2010 headed to the Opening Ceremony in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Ball 2006 travelled from London to the Opening Ceremony in Munich, Germany.

The Ball 2002 was carried 7000 miles across Europe and Asia to the World Cup finals in Korea & Japan.