Transforming the Lives of Refugee and Migrant Youth Through Sport
Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Hello! My name is Spiffy, I’m an interplanetary journalist. I’ve been speaking with innovators, entrepreneurs, and changemakers from around the world who are working to make a difference. One of those inspiring people is Gerald Mballe. Gerald, who is the Advisor of the Unified with Refugees program, joins us all the way from Italy!
Spiffy: Thanks for joining me, Gerald! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through your work?
Gerald: Thank you, Spiffy! I work for the Special Olympics’ Unified with Refugees program, a global platform where athletes extend an invitation of friendship to refugees and migrants, supporting and bringing critical, community-based inclusive programming to a population in need of empowerment, protection, and support to break down barriers of exclusion. This platform is committed to ensuring that all refugee youths can benefit from the same opportunities as others, and continues to transform the lives of refugee and migrant youth—of all abilities—through sport and related programming.
Spiffy: What motivates you to do it?
Gerald: I owe a lot to the athletes of the Special Olympics SO) and I am forever grateful for the impact they had on my life. I fled my country to escape violence and conflict, traveling through the Sahara Desert, and then crossing the sea in terrible conditions. After being rescued and transferred to Turin (Italy), I found myself in a foreign land, feeling unwelcome and scared, having to face a new culture and language. When my path found the athletes of SO, everything changed! They invited me to train with them and I became part of their family. They provided me with a sense of belonging when others could not and thanks to them I regained my self-esteem and started dreaming again.
Spiffy: This is such an inspiring story, Gerald. What would you say is the impact of your work?
Gerald: Through our Unified with Refugee platform, we responded immediately to the war in Ukraine and its eight million refugees—by working closely with national Special Olympics organizations in neighboring countries to provide emergency relief such as food, water, winter clothes, early childhood development activity, and sports equipment to engage refugees children and youths with and without developmental disabilities. We also distributed medical supplies and provided support for the integration of refugee children into existing sports clubs, providing safeguarding and social protection.
Spiffy: Tell me about a recent milestone or initiative by the program. What impact does that make on our community?
Gerald: On December 2nd, 2022, in Seville (Spain), our Unified with Refugees platform led the organization of an “Inclusive Day”, thanks to the collaboration of SO Andalucia, SO Spain, UNHCR, and the Seville Municipality. The event brought together 25 young-adult SO athletes with 25 asylum seekers and refugees from a local reception center. Among the spectators, we had families of various origins like Syria, Afghanistan, Georgia, Colombia, Guinea Conakry, Mali, and Sudan. It was incredibly powerful!
Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Gerald: As the world is leaving perhaps the largest humanitarian crises of this modern era, it's the right time to contribute to build the future by leaving no one behind, by investing most specifically in the talents of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and refugees alike. Let us restore human dignity by transforming lives and setting no barriers to our self transformation, and finally let us make the journey lovely while embracing intellectual disabilities young adults and their families.
Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Gerald—it’s been an honor!
Gerald Mballe is the Special Olympics’ first-ever Advisor for the Unified with Refugees program, helping further strengthen and expand the reach and impact of the initiative. His trajectory since has been an inspiration fueled by hard work and a passion for equality, tolerance, and inclusion, and his commitment to inclusive sports. (Nominated by David Evangelista at the Special Olympics Europe Eurasia. First published on the Ladderworks website on March 14, 2023.)
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.
© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.