Savvoula Oikonomou and George Koulouris, from KMOP (the Social Action & Innovation Centre) and Project Managers of Sail Away talked about the importance of the project, the inspiring reactions of participants and what it means to be a finalist for the 2021 #BeInclusive EU Sport Awards.
The impact of Sail Away
Sail Away originated from the observation of the limited access to affordable, qualitative, and beneficial activities that children and youth on the Autism Spectrum have – both alone and in groups or with families. Savvoula and George noticed as well that this is not only a Greek issue, the situation is similar for youth on the spectrum in most European countries.
At the same time, they also learned how meaningful sailing can be for young people on the spectrum. It offers them leadership skills, encourages them to take initiative and teaches them about motor and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills. Furthermore, it can help them develop their social skills as the sport requires to work as a team. Therefore Sail Away was born.
To make an impact, the project focused on 2 important aspects
- raising awareness of the benefits and addressing any concerns among both parents and sailing clubs
- KMOP designed a training programme for sailing instructors to provide them with the essential skills to take children on the spectrum with them on board
The success and value of the project was confirmed through several trial runs with 15 children on the autism spectrum in a variety of countries.
For a moment, I felt important too in my own way. I felt like a captain.
Young participant on the Autism Spectrum after participating in a 'Sail away' pilot-training.
Setting sail after the pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic, and consequent suspension of most activities for children, once again proved the importance of outside activities in groups, especially for children and youth with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).
The project was primarily developed during the period where all sports clubs were closed due to COVID-19 measures which made it quite a challenge. However, the sailing instructors navigated this difficult wave and thanks to their eager attitude and proactivity, Sail Away was able to have a good head start.
The impact of #BeInclusive
The organisers of Sail Away are very happy to be a finalist for the 2021 #BeInclusive EU Sport Awards. Mr Koulouris called it 'a great moment for the project and their work'. He is especially pleased with the opportunity to raise awareness on the importance of sport and how sport can be used to make a positive impact in society, creating equal opportunities for all children.
Looking towards the future, the team hopes the success of “Sail Away” will inspire other projects to apply for future editions of the #BeInclusive EU Sport Awards and that others will join to spread the word about the important role of sport in creating a more inclusive society, all across Europe. Ms Oikonomou added that they were amazed to, through their project, find out that numerous sport clubs have interesting initiatives to work on the inclusion of people who are otherwise marginalised. She joins her colleague in encouraging sport organisations all across Europe to share their inspiring impact.