Special Olympics and UNICEF formalized an international partnership in 2007 with the goal of providing greater inclusion of children with disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, into mainstream society, while providing communities worldwide the opportunity to learn and benefit from inclusion and acceptance of differences.
*This is a guest blog post written by David Evangelista, Special Olympics Vice President, Global Development and Government Relations
Some of the most comprehensive system failures are exposed initially by some of the most miniscule cracks in the frame. As the saying goes, it is often the smallest things that make the biggest difference.
As the world is gripped by the terror unleashed by forces like Ebola and ISIL alike, it is easy to forget the shock the world felt in reading the reports on Lakhan, a boy with cerebral palsy who had been tied to a bus stop in Mumbai. His father deceased, and his mother and older sister deserted, Lakhan’s fate was left to his elderly grandmother. Their home? A patch of pavement on the side of the road.
Lakhan lived in public bondage. Yet, he watched the ultimate form of mobility- public transportation- pass by him with great frequency. He witnessed the complacency, the apathy. He watched the hustle and bustle of one of the world’s largest cities, and knew that despite being in the thick of it, he could not have been further from it. He may have been deaf, and he may have had a profound disability, but he was not blind. And like all humans, he was able to reason toward conclusions. His loss, and the rope that tied him to the bus stop, was met with tacit approval or worse still- indifference.
Lakhan’s story is part of a much longer narrative- it speaks to a crack in the development frame that threatens to undo an entire system- a global system- designed to empower and lift up present and future generations. Lakhan, a child of our world, was relegated to an existence lower than the stray dogs he surely maneuvered around- or rather- maneuvered around him.
This brutal reality is one that will make any parent gasp, any government official uncomfortable, and any development expert nod. Individuals with intellectual disabilities, namely children, living in developing nations remain so at-risk, so marginalized, and so hopeless in the face of this rapid globalization that passengers moving from bus to sidewalk either never noticed Lakhan, or accepted his bondage as part of the tyranny that faces ‘those poor children.’
As we move closer to new Development Goals, we must recognize the deep epidemic that is unfolding: forced human bondage to ensure survival.
Not quarantine. Not criminal detention. Not punishment. A public leash- for safety.
Those who acted on the report, and the Indian government, should be commended for highlighting this in the global media, and working toward a swift solution. Lakhan, and his grandmother, have been given a chance to live with decency, dignity, and hope. Lakhan is now in a school for the deaf and individuals with disabilities. His grandmother resides with him.
The larger truth, however, generates only more questions: how many children like Lakhar exist, tied to public places to serve as an example of the cracks in the frame?
Lakhar represents a small fracture that needs to be addressed should the larger project of global sustainability is achieved. There are some 250 million individuals with intellectual disabilities in the world today- the majority of whom are children and represent some of the most isolated populations in the Global South.
The development community is working hard to create the next round of goals to build upon the great advancements made as part of the Millennium Development Goals – titled the Sustainable Development Goals. However, there is one population that is hoping that the trends that have surrounded their existence for millennia, at times in full public bondage, is not sustained- but changed.
A global partnership shared between Special Olympics and UNICEF is working closely with governments across the world to turn the tide for Lakhan and others with intellectual disabilities to achieve full social inclusion and mainstreaming. The goal: full equity and equality for all children. It is these types of broad yet targeted partnerships that hold the most promise for Lakhan’s future, and serve as one of the most powerful catalysts of change in countries throughout the world.
2015 and beyond must have Lakhan’s story at the forefront. It involves more than the building of schools, and the creation of jobs. It involves more than curriculums, trainings, and consultations.
It starts with individual attitudes.
May the global community make Lakhan the symbol of freedom - where freedom and safety are not flip sides of the same coin. Our success could depend on it.
Lakhan is one child in a rapidly expanding global community. His stature is small. His presence is small. And yet, we know: it is often the smallest things that make the biggest difference.