Freedom Fighters Meet in Dublin
By Suzanne Freeman

Former South African President Nelson Mandela speaks at the Global Youth Summit in Dublin, Ireland. Behind Mandela is Andrew Royal, a Scholastic News Online student reporter, Special Olympic athlete, and member of the Global Summit. Andrew, 17, is from Missouri. (Photo © Julian Cole, Julian Cole Photography)

Saturday, June 21—Yi Shan opened up a discussion with former South African President Nelson Mandela by singing a Chinese New Year's song. Ryan Atkinson told the freedom fighter how it felt when he was ignored. "When people don't like me for who I am, it hurts me," Ryan told him.

Ryan and Yi are 2 of 38 young people in the Global Youth Summit attending the Special Olympics World Games in Dublin, Ireland, this month. Both are Special Olympic Athletes who have come to report on the 2003 World Games. Each of 19 athletes from 17 different countries is partnered with an able person from their country. Each pair is also accompanied by a chaperone or translator.

The group met with Mandela and other dignitaries in a discussion led by Special Olympics President Timothy Shriver. Talk centered on acceptance of people with mental disabilities.

"The key to acceptance is knowledge," said Ryan's non-disabled partner Angela Wegscheider, 16. She and Ryan are from Anchorage, Alaska. "They don't know who people with disabilities are."

Mandela related his own experiences to the athletes who have had to fight for acceptance.

"Blacks in my country were denied our citizenship rights," he said. "We had to fight against that. "We did not give up our ideas and struggle. We continued even in jail." Mandela was imprisoned 27 years for fighting apartheid, or a legal system that declared blacks were second-class citizens in their own country of South Africa.

As moderator of the event, Shriver asked Mandela for advice on how to deal with rejection. "These people are rejected by people because of their disabilities," he said. "How do you manage those feelings?"

"It is a question of self-confidence and determination," Mandela answered. He told about his father who sent him to school in another community so he could get an education. "We were far from well-to-do," Mandela said. "My father took his trousers and cut them and gave them to me to wear to school. As well as his shirt, which was long enough to be an overcoat. I was determined to be like all the other children and make progress in my education."

Even in prison, Mandela said he and his fellow freedom fighters continued to study and learn. "If you are determined and improve yourself, you can succeed."

A.J. Hellickson, Arnold Schwarznegger, and Andrew Royal at the forum with Nelson Mandela. The discussion was held before the opening of the Special Olympics World Games in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Kathie Wolfert, U.S. Chaperone, Global Youth Summit)

Mandela introduced another icon of self-determination to the group: boxer Muhammed Ali. Musicians Quincy Jones and Joseph Simmons (Rev. Run of Run DMC) also attended the event. Other dignitaries were actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, his wife Maria Shriver, and their children; Carolyn Kennedy Schlossberg; and Eunice Shriver, the founder of Special Olympics.

"If you can see it and you can see it strong, you can do it," Quincy Jones told the group.

When the discussion turned to where to find inspiration, Joanna Macera, 17, of the Global Youth Summit, pointed to her partner and Special Olympics athlete Claudia Reguena, 15.

"I was thinking, you have moved so many people to do wonderful things," Joanna said. "When I met Claudia, she inspired me."