While the athletes celebrate their sporting victories, coaches draw up their game plans and spectators cheer from the stands, thousands of volunteers are hard at work making sure Special Olympics World Games 2019 is an incredible success.
Thousands of people of all ages, abilities, nationalities and backgrounds have donated their time to being part of the largest sporting and humanitarian event of the year and the biggest event of its kind ever held in the UAE.
These volunteers come from all corners of the Emirates and perfectly represent the diversity and community spirit at the heart of UAE society.
Omar AlHashemi said he stepped forward to be part of the World Games so he can give back to his community, develop his skills, and draw on the determination of the athletes.
“We’re not here to volunteer only,” said the 21-year-old Emirati. “We here to leave our finger prints, draw smiles on their faces, solve some of their issues and cheer for their accomplishments.”
Omar, who was assigned the role of Operation Team Leader, added that events such as the World Games help to break down barriers between people of determination and other members of society.
“We pass by a lot of people of determination at university, in malls and cafes, but not everyone knows how to communicate or deal with them,” he said
For Essa Al Marzouqi, a young Emirati volunteer of determination from Abu Dhabi Autism Center, the World Games was a chance to meet and greet the athletes who are representing the UAE as well as sportspeople from across the globe.
Essa’s duties included welcoming the athletes to the UAE and spending time with them to help them relax before competing in their individual events.
The youngster, who volunteered with his classmates, said working at the World Games was a great experience, particularly as he gets to ride his bicycle a lot.
For Zeina Haffar, volunteering at the World Games was too big an opportunity to miss.
The 24-year-old Syrian said she was eager to be part of such a massive, empowering event that would have a huge impact on the region and decided to help in any way she could.
“I’ve gained a lot of experience already,” said Zeina, who is also interning at KPMJ. “Knowing people of determination makes you realize nothing is impossible, they are excelling at their capability rather than being focused on their disabilities. It’s inspiring.”
Sports fan Katerina Djunova said it was an honor to volunteer at the World Games and has been impressed by the roller-skating competition at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center.
“I used to roller skate as a child, but I wasn’t that good. They are amazing, you can feel their spirit,” said the 30-year-old Macedonian who works in Human Resources at Marriott Hotels.
“I came here to support and give all I have as it’s important to give and serve your community, not take,” added Katerina, who is keen to watch the Macedonian basketball and swimming teams in action.
Repeat volunteer Rexiniel Chio Isidro helped out at last year’s Special Olympics MENA Games and jumped at the chance of being part of the World Games.
The 37-year-old from the Philippines, who works as a chef at Jumeirah Etihad Towers, has friends and relatives with Downs Syndrome and volunteered so he could support people of determination.
“They are people who are born with a challenge but are here with us today determined to win nevertheless,” said Rexiniel.