Timor-Leste: UNDP supports Special Olympics team

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Smiling and hugging each other, the seven men from the districts of Los Palos, Liquica, Manatuto and Dili disembarked from their Merpati Flight waving a special flag that they had received in Jakarta, acknowledging that Timor-Leste will next year host the Special Olympics for the first time since the restoration of the country's independence in 2002. It was a moment with huge symbolic significance for thousands of people with disabilities in the country. It also demonstrated the power of sports as a transcendental, unifying force throughout the world.

The group was part of a team of 13 Timorese athletes and support staff returning from Dili on 11 November 2009 after representing their country in the Asia Pacific Special Olympics which were held from 6 - 10 November 2009. The team subsequently represented the country in the Peace Games in Kupang from 20-23 November 2009.

Their mission was facilitated by the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MSS) with financial contribution from the Dialogue Project of UNDP.

The US $ 10,000 UNDP contribution was provided courtesy of funding made available through the UN's Peacebuilding Fund in recognition of the crucial role that can be played by sports in promotion of positive national identity as part of programming aimed at strengthening social stability. UNDP also recognizes the important contribution this event will make to raising the profile of persons with disabilities as a source of national pride and important part of the broader Timorese community.

In making the request for support for these activities the Minister for Social Solidarity, Maria Domingas Fernandes Alves highlighted how "supporting the Special Olympics Team of Timor-Leste to participate in these two international sporting events will also contribute to strengthening pride in Timorese national identity and thereby help contribute to community stability, a core goal of the Trust-Building Pillar of the National Recovery Strategy and of UNDP's assistance to MSS."

"The National Directorate of Social Assistance has a long-term commitment to addressing the needs of persons with disabilities" remarked the Director of Social Assistance, Amandio Amaral Freitas, adding: "At this time platforms which help raise the profile of this group as a source of pride for the nation are an important way in which we can help the country move forward in an inclusive and equitable way."

Underscoring the importance of Timor-Leste being host to the Special Olympics next year, UNDP Country Director Akbar Usmani said that UNDP has been a close partner of the Government throughout the recovery process and in the transition best summed up by the Government's own catchphrase 'Goodbye Conflict, Welcome Development' (Adeus Conflicto, Bemvindo Desenvolvimento). "As Timor-Leste is now preparing to play host of this important regional event the nation is also clearly demonstrating the strong role it has to play as a member of the Asia-Pacific community."

The Country Director added that UNDP shares the Government's vision of the importance of Timor-Leste's participation in the international arena "as a key catalyst in strengthening national unity as well as these particular events representing an important opportunity to demonstrate the progressive and equitable approach demonstrated by the Government and in particular, the Ministry of Social Solidarity."

At a press conference on November 11 to welcome the team back from Jakarta, the Secretary of State for Youth and Sport Miguel Manetelo said that Timor-Leste is privileged to host the Special Olympics next year and therefore, should prepare well in advance to ensure that the event is a success.

The Special Olympics Team of Timor Leste was established in November 2008 with the Minister for Social Solidarity, Maria Domingas Fernandes Alves nominated as its president. Currently, it comprises 57 members drawn from all districts of the country.