All inclusive!

PM Holness commits to education, jobs for people with special needs

Senior staff reporter

Saturday, May 11, 2019

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On the back of their inspirational show at the 2019 World Summer Games in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Special Olympics Jamaica (SOJ) athletes have more to celebrate after Prime Minister Andrew Holness recently expressed government's commitment to support the movement.

The Jamaican athletes claimed a record-breaking 33 medals at the Games in March, but despite the accomplishment, there remains concern regarding their day-to-day livelihood since all are non-professional competitors and many are unemployed.

Holness addressed the issue last week Friday when he announced that the mechanism is in place to provide employment for people with special needs.

“I want to assure you that this Government believes in inclusive economic growth and job creation — we can't leave anyone behind,” the prime minister said during his speech as athletes, coaches and staff were honoured at Jamaica House.

He said that the Government, through the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and with the support of the Development Bank of Jamaica, has earmarked $200 million to fund initiatives to help the athletes. Holness explained that the fund can be accessed by charity entities which initiate social enterprises that provide “meaningful employment” for people with special needs.

“We have started with the education system to ensure that we are able to identify persons with special needs, and to cater for those special needs. Certainly, it is not as much as we would like, it is not as refined as we would like, but I'm confident that the Ministry of Education is doing all it can within its limited resources to ensure that we are providing services to those among us with special needs.

“The challenge really remains when they leave the education system — how are we providing for and integrating persons within not just society, but within, our economy, how do we make sure that you are able to be productive citizens and to contribute meaningfully to the development of the society,” said Holness, the former minister of education.

After the medal haul inclusive of 15 gold, 10 silver and eight bronze eclipsed the previous best tally of 29 captured four years ago in the United States, Holness showered SOJ with praise.

“I want to say how happy I am to see we have done so well at the Special Olympics. I'm personally moved and motivated. You continue to carry Brand Jamaica to the world, you are exposing our country in a progressive and positive way to the rest of the world. But the country that you represent… has to do more to make sure that you have a positive, meaningful future,” he said.

Special Olympics Jamaica was further boosted when Olivia Grange, the minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, announced that Travis Ebanks, a unified partner on the badminton team, had been awarded a scholarship to complete his Bachelor of Law degree.

“Travis is in his final year as a law student at The University of the West Indies, but it has been a challenge for Travis. When I heard that he was having financial difficulty and was in danger of dropping out of the programme, I made the decision that must never happen,” Grange said.

Lorna Bell, the SOJ executive director and head of delegation to the Abu Dhabi Games, was grateful for the Government's input.

“SOJ welcomes the prime minister's message on inclusion. All our athletes want is a chance, and inclusion is must for a better Jamaica. It was also a pleasure to hear the minister announce that Special Olympics unified partner Travis Ebanks, who is a paralympian and who was with us in Abu Dhabi, has been awarded a scholarship to complete his tertiary studies,” Bell told the Jamaica Observer.

Ebanks was joyous and relieved about the opportunity given to him.

“I'm very elated because I was on the brink of falling out and this scholarship came right in time. I was able to register for my courses and [will] complete my examinations. All being well, I'm expected to complete my studies this year.

“I'm so happy to have been a part of Special Olympics Jamaica and to have participated with the team in Abu Dhabi. The experience was phenomenal, it was my first badminton game at the international level… and the whole idea of inclusion sinks very well with me because it is something I'm passionate about,” said the athlete.

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