SODE makes a difference in Haiti

posted Mon, Dec 22, 2014 by Jon Buzby

SODE staff and volunteers helped train more than 20 volunteer coaches in Haiti.

Local athletes and Unified partners participated in soccer clinics.

As the holiday season approaches around the world, 60 Special Olympics athletes and Unified partners along with 20 coaches from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, have already received a special gift from five SODE staff and volunteers who visited in early December to educate and train members of a local Special Olympics program.

Special Olympics Delaware staff members Ann Grunert and Gary Cimaglia were joined by longtime volunteers Mary Moore (Meadowood Athletes United), Chris Popp (MOT) and Joe Wood (Kent) for the six-day trip that was part of a “twinning program” where U.S. Special Olympics state programs are joined together with developing programs/countries for an opportunity to share talents, resources and knowledge. The program is sponsored by Special Olympics Incorporated through grants provided by the Special Olympics Very Special Christmas Fund.

The Delaware contingent trained Haitian volunteer coaches in the sports of bocce, futbol (soccer), and track and field. Coaches then conducted clinics for the local athletes under the supervision of the Special Olympics Delaware clinicians. The participating children were from local orphanages.

“In Haiti, the majority of special needs children are placed in orphanages or hidden from the community,” Grunert explained. “Volunteerism is not part of the culture in the country, so the fact that these 20 volunteer coaches not only want to help, but want to be part of an effort to overcome the stigma of people with special needs by getting them out from behind closed doors is just truly inspiring.”

Sports equipment is scarce in Haiti – socks stuffed with sand serve as bocce balls — so the equipment used in the clinics and exhibition had to be carried by the clinicians as additional luggage from Delaware to Haiti. It was then left for the program to use in the future.

“What humbled and yet enthused me the most is that the coaches are not looking for money, but rather the basic resources we take for granted like balls, whistles and stopwatches. All things they can’t get in Haiti but that we were able to provide and leave with them,” Cimaglia said.

The twinning program, held Dec. 3-7, culminated with a bocce exhibition held at the newly opened Sport For Hope Olympic Training Centre, an $18 million facility constructed by the International Olympic Committee.

“Being able to share this day with the athletes and provide them with the equipment necessary to do that was incredible and will leave me with a bond I will always share with them,” Popp said.