I have been playing tennis since I was a child, and have been involved in Special Olympics Pakistan sporting events since early 2018. There was a time when I knew very little about people with intellectual disabilities but that changed tremendously when I got the chance to meet a genuine soul and now a good friend, Sajida.
When I first met Sajida, I was struck by how full of life, energetic and resilient she was. I couldn’t believe that not only did she have an intellectual disability, she had a hearing disability as well.
We first met in 2018, at our training camps where we were preparing for the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games held in Abu Dhabi. During this time, I learned many things from Sajida. She became my teacher. She thought me basic sign language, which helped us a lot on the court. Whenever I got anxious and nervous, she would send me a reassuring signal to help me stay calm and concentrate on the task at hand.
Her simple gestures and bright smile were like antidotes to my anxiety during our matches. She never gave up, and always kept our spirits and morale high with her positive attitude and unwavering belief in our ability as a team to do our country proud. Thanks to her amazing spirit and grit, we won a Gold medal for our country. I was in disbelief. It was a life-changing experience for both of us and because of this, we now share a unique bond that is hard to describe.
I returned from the World Games with a renewed sense of purpose. I felt that I can and should do all that is within my power to support people with intellectual disabilities. I have seen first-hand how much people with intellectual disabilities can achieve, and now realize the potential they have to do more for themselves and our society.
Motivated and inspired, I started working closely with the Special Olympics Pakistan team, to get involved in not only sports activities, but all others that would help promote inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities in my country.
In 2019, I was nominated to take part in the Youth For Inclusion Summit held in Singapore, a youth leadership summit organized by Special Olympics Asia Pacific for young people with and without intellectual disabilities across the region to co-create ideas for inclusion. This time, my partner was Maham Zehra, another amazing athlete.
During the summit, I worked closely with Maham and I could see that she had the potential to be a great leader. We worked together to come up with ideas to promote inclusion in our country using technology. I was bowled over by her creativity and confidence as she pitched her idea to the panel of judges and the entire auditorium of youth leaders. When it was announced that our proposal was among the top five, we were over the moon!
Looking back now, Maham has transformed from a shy individual to a confident leader, motivated to bring a change in our society. It’s so inspiring to see how people with intellectual disabilities, just like any one of us, rise to the challenge when we empower and encourage them. All it takes is an inclusive environment for us grow and develop at our own pace.
Maham and I have since continued to work together to come up with ideas to advocate for the rights of people with intellectual disabilities, with the support of the Special Olympics movement. I am so happy that I got a chance to make such amazing friends. It has been an amazing journey, but I know that this is just the start, there is a lot more that we need to do. Inclusion is the future!