On Wednesday, April 18, the Western Academy of Beijing (WAB) turned the opening day of the three-day boys’ APAC soccer tournament into an opportunity for learning and understanding. Visiting teams from schools around China, South Korea, and Macao paraded onto the field one by one, each APAC athlete holding hands with students from the Shunyi Special School (SSS). SSS is a local school for children with special needs, and WAB’s chapter of the international club Best Buddies arranged for the days Unified Games, in which students from SSS teamed up with APAC teams for a soccer tournament.
WAB students gathered on the soccer pitch to welcome the visiting athletes, cheering them on as they paraded onto the field. An elaborate opening ceremony followed, with student performances from WAB’s gymnastics team, two dance teams, a solo opera singer, and a kung fu performance.
When the ceremony concluded, the Unified Games began, in which SSS students teamed up with their APAC partners to create a new team to play a short soccer tournament. The players were supportive and positive, and there were plenty of high-fives and cheers as players scored goals. Martin Halpin, WAB’s athletics and activities director, said of the event, “It’s a fantastic experience for everybody. The APAC athletes and Shunyi Speical School athletes all have big smiles on their faces … in pairs they’re running together. It’s a great opportunity for learning for both groups.”
After the Unified Games concluded, SSS students moved to the side soccer pitch to continue playing amongst themselves and their friends from WAB’s Best Buddies. Best Buddies is an organization that allows people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to form friendship, learn new things, and have fun with volunteers; WAB’s chapter is the first Best Buddies chapter in China .
After the soccer games concluded and students had a quick snack, some members painted shirts while others went to play basketball.
Oscar Jonsson, thepresident of WAB’s Best Buddies, started his volunteer work with the club three and a half years ago when he helped found Fast Friends, WAB’s own version of Best Buddies. Fast Friends turned into Best Buddies this year, and Jonsson, an 11th grader, says that working with SSS students helped him realize that “We’re all the same inside, and we all need a friend.”
Annie Wang, also in grade 11, is the vice president of WAB’s best buddies, and she says, “The biggest thing I‘ve learned [working with Best Buddies]is patience … and that I can help them and I have the resources to help them with whatever I can. And on top of everything, we’re more alike than different.”
Best Buddies does activities with SSS students monthly, alternating between visits at WAB and the SSS campus. Wang says sometimes they do crafts together, or take part in drama of PE classes and play sports in WAB’s gym.
SSS(北京市顺义区特殊教育学校) is located in Shunyi just northeast of Capital Airport. The school was established in 1991, and currently has 106 students ages 3 to 18 with a variety of special needs, including, autism, cerebral palsy, ADHD, and students who are deaf.
Photos by Ellis Friedman