Innovator of the Week: A Plan to Include

The following post was written by Sara Bala, a Youth Leader from Albania. Sara is introducing athletes to partners in schools in order to create an inclusive environment. Check out how she #innovatesforinclusion!

I had been part of Special Olympics Albania long before the Youth Grant Innovation Project opportunities were introduced to me. In the past, I have tried to help, share my time and ideas, but I never had to think about what I could do. The moment I started thinking about what I could do as a leader, I realized that I didn’t know enough athletes. Then I started thinking about where to find athletes and many schools for people with intellectual disabilities and non-governmental organizations came to mind. I also kept thinking, “Why can’t I find more athletes in typical schools? Why would I have to go back and forth coordinating athletes and partners when I could have found them both in the same school?” That was the initial thought that made me realize that schools don’t have extended programming and need help to become inclusive. They need to plan in order to be able to welcome and to include athletes. That’s how the concept of “Plan to Include” was born.

Later on, I found that the key points of my project would be introducing athletes to potential partners, introducing schools to practical ways for them to create an inclusive environment and target students that will be teachers, coaches, and sports trainers.

Partners and athletes playing on Basketball Day in Elbasan

To introduce potential Unified partners and our athletes, the Special Olympics Albania and and I organized three recreational activities in different cities in Albania, Tirana, Durres, and Elbasan. We invited the volunteers of the “Plan to Include” initiative to the event we organized in Elbasan, which was within the framework of the International Week of Basketball. The activities were organized in schools and Special Olympics athletes were invited. All the teachers, parents, volunteers, coaches, and participants were excited, and the positive feedback we got was indescribable.

To reach out to volunteers and potential Unified Partners, we engaged with four high schools in Tirana and Elbasan and the National Sports High School in Durres. We got to meet amazing young people, talked to them, and were surprised by their availability and desire to become part of our mission for inclusion. They were the ones that later welcomed and bonded with Special Olympics athletes through sport.

Volunteer Workshop held in Tirana

To try and expand the opportunities of inclusion in schools, we contacted two universities in Tirana and Elbasan; both had a focus on sports execution end teaching. We organized two meetings (one seminar followed by one workshop) to get to work with university students and develop the “Practical Guide Toward Inclusion.”

The final phase of “Plan to Include” was in March 2019, and I am proud to have been part of this initiative as a Special Olympics Youth Leader. I am also proud to say that the impact of this project will live on beyond March 2019, as Unified Sports teams are being developed in Tirana and Elbasan to create ongoing opportunities for people with and without intellectual disabilities to come together through inclusive sport. With a Plan to Include in place, we can create a more inclusive Albania and a more inclusive world!

A group of volunteers at the workshop in Tirana
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