Advancing Inclusion Through Sports

Speeches Shim

Wednesday, December 2, 2020
Artiom at one of the football sessions by FootyStar Football Academy in Sloviansk.
NGO FootyStar Inclusion

Artiom was just one when, in 2014, he and his mother, Hanna, moved to Sviatohirsk from occupied Makeyevka in Donetsk Oblast. As a child with special educational needs, Artiom had few opportunities to play with other kids and make friends due, in part, to deeply rooted social stigmatization and negative presumptions around anyone with special needs in Ukraine. 

In early 2020, Hanna learned about a unique football program that a local organization, FootyStar Inclusion, had organized. The organization works with children in Sloviansk, Kramatorsk, and Druzhkivka, including those with autism, Down syndrome, and Tourette syndrome. The program teaches children to learn together, fosters teamwork, and promotes tolerance and acceptance, using an accepted methodology of social adaptation. 

In June 2020, with support from USAID’s Democratic Governance East Activity, FootyStar had equipped three indoor football (soccer) fields and provided targeted training for parents and educators. FootyStar now works with more than 200 children, including 60 children with special needs, on developing their football skills. As a result, children like Artiom have gained access to organized sports and the opportunity to socialize with other kids.

“Thanks to FootyStar’s unique approach, my son finally felt equal to his peers. Public perception around special needs is starting to change for the better. We are on the right path,” said Hanna. 

Artiom’s experience with FootyStar also opened the door to classroom learning. Hanna worked with FootyStar to successfully petition the Sloviansk City Council Department of Education to open an inclusive class and admit Artiom to the local public school. In September 2020, Artiom entered first grade and was assigned a teaching assistant to help him succeed in the classroom. “I am thankful to FootyStar and USAID for working with Artiom, as well as for empowering me and providing me with access to valuable information,” said Hanna.