May 14, 2024

Inclusive Health is Thriving in Chile

Group of people posing for a photo in a hospital in Chile.

Erica Dayton traveled to Chile for a four-day site visit to see firsthand the impact of Special Olympics Healthy Communities work in Latin America. Healthy Communities, now in its 14th year, has been funded with the support of $67 million provided by Tom Golisano since its launch in 2012. It is raising awareness about health disparities facing people with intellectual disabilities and activates partners to adopt more inclusive practices, train and empower athletes and caregivers to become vocal advocates and help people with intellectual disabilities live healthy lives in their communities.

Erica visited three colleges that educate the next generation of human service providers to work with those with disabilities. She met with health ministry officials, Special Olympics staff, athletes, and families to hear their personal experiences and visited two economically different schools to see how Special Olympics delivers health care and health education. 

“I saw how easy it is to be isolated and not know how access resources and human services,” said Erica. “I saw teachers caring for disabled students like family, health professionals volunteering their time and expertise to care for those in need, and education plans that will expand advocacy and education opportunities for those with disabilities. I heard the personal stories of university students on why they are becoming dentists and want to work with people with intellectual disabilities. It was heartwarming to hear that without Mr. Golisano and the Golisano Foundation’s support, their children would not have the future they do today.”

Foundation Director Erica Dayton posed for a photo with Gonzalo Escobar in Chile

Erica Dayton met with students at the Escuela Lo Hermida Peñalolén, a local special school in Santiago, Chile, talking with educators, athletes, Special Olympics International, Special Olympics Latin America, and Special Olympics Chile staff as well as staff and students from Universidad del Desarrollo’s Medical School. Special Olympics Chile has an ongoing relationship with this university, and their students visit multiple special schools in and around Santiago regularly to provide Health Promotion screening and health education, especially related to nutrition and hydration.

Special Olympics Chile and Latin America continue to lead the way and educate those around them. With their efforts, athletes are getting the attention and care they need to be competitive in their sport while living life to their full potential. 

Chile has been recognized for the extraordinary work in breaking down barriers to inclusive health evidenced by the work of two Global Golisano Health Leadership Award honorees – Dr. Georgina Toro and The School of Ontology of the Universidad de Valparaiso. The award is the highest Special Olympics honor for health partners.

Foundation Director Erica Dayton with Dr. Toro

Erica met with Gonzalo Escobar, a Special Olympics Chile athlete and Health Messenger who excels in multiple sports, but especially snowboarding. Gonzalo is from the neighborhood where the Escuela Lo Hermida Peñalolén is located. It was his first time visiting it, and he had fun meeting the students and participating in Health Promotion activities.

Erica met Dr. Georgina Toro (above center), a pediatric dentistry specialist from Universidad Nacional Andres Bello, the largest private university in Chile. Dr. Toro received the 2023 Global Golisano Health Leadership Award. She volunteers her expertise, engaging her students to educate individuals with intellectual disabilities on oral hygiene, conduct dental screenings, and provide dental procedures free of charge to Special Olympics athletes. 

Erica also visited The School of Odontology of the Universidad de Valparaiso, Chile, recipient of the 2022 Global Golisano Health Leadership Award, and met with Dr. Jaime Jamett, Director of the Odontology Clinic. For years, the dental faculty has been training students on conducting dental evaluations and oral health education for people with intellectual disabilities. They conduct community outreach clinics for people with intellectual disabilities and address urgent referrals at the university clinic or by their mobile unit. Hundreds of athletes with intellectual disabilities have been screened and treated for caries, root canals, and the installation of implants and dental prostheses.

The work being done is making an enormous difference, but hundreds of thousands of people with intellectual disabilities in South America and Latin America have not been reached.

Chile’s capital, Santiago, will be the host site for the 2027 Special Olympics World Games, marking the first time in the organization’s 55-year history that a World Games will take place in the Southern Hemisphere.

“I look forward to following the progress over the next several years in Chile and all across Latin America,” said Erica. “I hope that athletes, coaches, government officials, teachers, health care workers, and all others in attendance at the 2027 World Games will know upon arrival that Special Olympics Chile is a health leader for individuals with intellectual disabilities. The games will create a space to provide healthy athlete screenings, community education, public awareness, and an exceptional experience for all those who attend. I look forward to watching the progress made in this region over the next few years and traveling to Chile again in 2027.” 

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