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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Volunteers sign up to be the smiling face of Abu Dhabi's Special Olympics 

From work experience to organisational skills, their role is crucial say organisers

Shuaa Masood, a volunteer for the Special Olympics, at Ras Al Khaimah Exhibition Centre. Pawan Singh / The National
Shuaa Masood, a volunteer for the Special Olympics, at Ras Al Khaimah Exhibition Centre. Pawan Singh / The National

From herding crowds to being the smiling face of their city, they are the unsung and unpaid heroes who will make the Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi a games to remember.

And the first of the 23,000 needed to host the two upcoming Special Olympics games described their excitement this week.

The Special Olympics Middle East and North Africa Games 2018 games in March will be a precursor to the bigger The Special Olympics World Games in 2019.

The two volunteer operations will likely be the largest to date in the UAE and will provide those taking part with work experience, organisational skills and support athletes and others with disabilities.

The Special Olympics volunteering programme was launched at the fifth Emirates Foundation Youth Summit 2017, which kicked off on Tuesday at Ras Al Khaimah Exhibition Centre.

Shuaa Masood, who has already signed up, said she was keen to be part of such a large event.

“I've volunteered in many events but this will be different. The experience will be different and I’m sure that it will inspire us all,” said Ms Shuaa, 24, an Emirati from Sharjah.

“I encourage everyone to come and join. It’s an international event that will open many doors and gain new skills, be introduced to various sports and meet new people."

Over 1,200 athletes of all abilities will participate in the regional games March, including 250 from the UAE.

Among the other early volunteers is Sultan Al Dhaheri, a 27-year-old Emirati from Abu Dhabi.

“I started as a volunteer in 2009 with the Emirates Foundation and I managed to improve many skills. I can now present myself better, communicate with others easily, become more organised and that helped in lifting my self-esteem,” he said.

"It’s an opportunity to communicate, interact and socialise with many people from different nationalities and age groups."

“The Special Olympics games is a very special event... we will learn how to be persistent and determined and will show us that nothing is impossible."

Over 7,000 Special Olympics athletes representing over 170 countries from around the world will participate in the World Games, which will require the support of around 20,000 volunteers from 14 to 21 March 2019.

“One of the reasons we bid for the games, and fortunately now host the games, is to change the perception and the culture of shame associated with having a member of the family with an intellectual disability," said Tala Al Ramahi, chief strategy officer for strategic planning and legacy at the games.

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Abu Dhabi to host regional Special Olympics in run up to 2019 main event

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“There are many ways and opportunities to engage people with disabilities in the country and this is one of the most important events. It will allow people with disabilities to be empowered along with welcoming thousands of volunteers in the event to get involved and be inspired with the many success stories."

Hessa bint Eisa Bu Humaid, Minister of Community Development, said that hosting this event is a great opportunity.

“This reflects the essence of the UAE, with volunteers from all parts of the community contributing to organising the largest humanitarian event in the Middle East, displaying a spirit of giving and helping and supporting People of Determination,” said Ms Bu Humaid in reference to the government's name for those with disabilities.

Volunteers must be at least 14 years old and commit to a minimum of three days during the games. They will be required to attend 16-hours of training and there will be opportunities for those with and without disabilities to get involved.

To register to volunteer, visit: http://www.abudhabi2019.org/volunteers

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