The Paradip (Odisha) cyclone in 1999 changed my life forever. As an active member of the Lions Club for many years, I have always had a strong inclination towards serving people. But that fateful night, I watched humans and animals co-exist. The catastrophe pushed all living beings into a struggle to survive. By God’s grace I was in a safe place but the calamity that unfolded before me not only pained me immensely, it stirred within me a steely resolve to do more to improve the lives of those who need help. Years passed and I worked furiously in different causes including helping women and children, and in education.
In 2015, I learnt about the Special Olympics movement through a Lions Club International Convention and after that, witnessed a few sports initiatives in New Delhi, India. In 2017, I was invited to attend the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria. The experience opened my eyes to how sports can help transform lives, unite communities and bring such joy to people with intellectual disabilities.
I was invited to march with a team during the opening ceremony of the Games. It was snowing, we were drenched and the cold was biting. It was uncomfortable but nothing deterred the athletes of Special Olympics from marching on. For them it was something that had to be achieved that day, no matter what. It was an occasion they had been waiting so long for – to show the world what they were capable of. The delight on their faces, their excitement and energy ignited something special within me. I forgot all about the cutting and bitter cold. I marched alongside them, my heart filled with warmth.
During the Games, I saw what a truly inclusive and supportive environment looked like. The Games celebrated our differences, allowing each and every one of the athletes to be themselves and to achieve their greatest potential. There was so much value in something as simple as putting a smile on someone’s face.
I returned from the Games, inspired and ready to do more for people with intellectual disabilities. That’s how Mission Inclusion was born – a project funded by the Aruna Abhey Oswal Trust and Lions Clubs International that aims to benefit athletes with intellectual disabilities through unified sports events, health screenings and educational family health forums. The birth of this project was only the beginning; a long journey towards inclusion awaits all of us.
I believe giving is a lifelong journey. If we want to create real impact in the world, giving has to go beyond just a one-time or ad-hoc effort. There are so many ways to give back – as a volunteer or as a philanthropist. But the key is ensuring it is sustainable. It is my hope that my efforts will leave a legacy, and make a lasting difference in creating a more inclusive future.
Moving forward, I hope that the next generation of young people can become more active advocates of inclusion. If we actively engage our youth and instill in them the right values, I am confident they are the answer to us achieving a truly unified world.
Mrs Aruna Oswal is a philanthropist and member of the Lions Club International. She has been an avid supporter of the Special Olympics movement since 2015.