My brother Will and I recently attended the Special Olympics Global Youth Forum which was held in Baku, Azerbaijan, writes columnist Jemima Browning.
We were privileged to join 220 other delegates and represent Special Olympics Great Britain as their inclusive youth pair.
This week-long conference celebrated young people and their work with special Olympics alongside teaching new skills and commemorating the 50-year anniversary of the global Special Olympics movement.
After a colossal 21-hour journey we arrived in the stunning Baku. Our hosts afforded us amazing hospitality throughout our time in Azerbaijan.
After settling in we attended the opening ceremony. There were many official welcomes, the presentation of the Special Olympics flag and torch and an incredible speech from the Chairman of the Special Olympics, Dr Timothy Shriver.
The first evening we were driven to Buta Palace in Baku where we had a banquet comprising of a vast array of different foods. The evening ended with great dancing for everyone and a conga started and lead by Special Olympics GB! The sense of inclusivity was palpable and shown by everyone no matter disability, nationality, religion or any other stereotyped and often excluded group.
Day one of the Forum kicked off with an informative panel discussion involving, Dr Timothy Shriver, Special Olympics athlete Lucy Meyer and Lions International President. They all spoke and galvanised the audience who listened with intent. This was followed by numerous fabulous speeches.
For the last session of the morning the young people and adult programme leaders split. The young leaders session was a workshop where skills were shared and learned. A teambuilding exercise was carried out to allow the young people to bond and have fun while working as part of a team. Then we all reflected on this to think about best practices in leadership and teamwork. This helped everyone grow as young leaders and take new expertise to their home countries with them to develop their work to date.
Day two started much like day one with a panel of fantastic people including the new partners of Special Olympics and some young leaders too. This was followed by speeches.
Then the hard work began for all the youth leaders as we entered project planning mode. There was a buzz of productivity in the room as all youth leaders from the 45 different countries came up with their projects.
Will really shone through this session, he shared his ideas and feelings and contributed more confidently than ever before.
He said: “I loved making the poster all about our new project. It was fun to share my ideas and feelings. I am excited to start telling people all about it. I loved it in Baku, I felt important.”
The final day was the closing ceremony. This was the perfect end to the perfect forum. We were all congratulated and motivated to move forwards with our aim of building an inclusive community and spreading it across the globe. I know that each and every delegate, whether a young leader, mentor, supporter, programme leaders, sponsors, esteemed guests will have taken away so much, so many new skills, newly ignited passions and new stories to share. Although we have all taken away something different, it is an amazing to know we will all be working towards the same goal, an all-inclusive world.
I am using all I learnt in Baku to add to my passion to fight for and with people with intellectual disabilities and ensure their needs and wants are projected and listened to.