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Lions Club Belgium: 'The fight is not for medals, it's for access and recognition'

Paul Nauwelaert (left) is responsible for the Healthy Athletes Program within Lions Clubs Belgium, he also coordinates for Special Olympics Belgium. Remy Huwaert (right) is the Council Chairman of the Lions Clubs International MD112 Belgium. (Photo: JoŽlle Verbeeck)
by Bavo Delbaere, AIPS Young Reporter, Belgium

SCHLADMING/RAMSAU, March 20, 2017 Ė Among the bustling atmosphere of winter sports and ski gear, Lionís Club Belgium representatives Paul Nauwelaerts and Remy Huwaert are solemnly dressed in suits. They can barely surpress their smiles though as they proudly show their Golisano Global Health Leardership Award. As they speak with infectious enthusiasm and wide gesticulations, it becomes clear they are eagerly determined to spread their motto: ďWe ServeĒ.

Q: Lions Clubs Belgium just received the Golisano Global Health Leadership Award. Can you explain what it exactly is?

Remy Huwaert: We received this award because of our achievements and dedication to the Special Olympics Healthy athletes Program. This award means a lot to us. Itís the best ďthank youĒ we could have possibly gotten.

Q: In total seven Golisano Awards were awarded. How do you distinguish yourself from the other nominees?

A: We received the award representing Eurasia, the other six were given to other parts of the world. Our strength is our diversity. We offer Special Olympics funding and manpower, itís quite unique because most of the other awards are for doctors in medicine.

Q: What lessons have you learned by working together with Special Olympics?

A: First and foremost, to be humble. We got a very warm welcome in Austria and received an award but it still feels like a privilege to be here. The most important lesson is to be reliable and to continue encouraging these athletes from all over the world. To tell them they are not alone and that we are here to support them.

Q: What does the future bring? What are Lions working on right now?

A: During the Opening ceremony, Russia, Austria, China and USA arrived with delegations consisting of more than 200 athletes. This must be a benchmark for us. In Belgium there are still athletes we havenít helped yet, so we have to increase our influence.

Along with Belgium, nominees from Egypt, South Korea, Thailand, USA, China and Peru also received a Golisano Global Health Leadership Award. (Photo: JoŽlle Verbeeck)

Paul Nauwelaert is in charge of the Healthy Athletes Program within Lions Clubs Belgium. According to him, the Golisano Award for Lions is a step in the right direction, for the contribution towards better healthcare and bigger exposure for Belgiumís Special athletes and for Special Olympics

Q: How does it come that people with an intellectual disability donít have access to proper health care in a country like Belgium?

Paul Nauwelaerts: In general Belgiumís regular health care program has a very good reputation. But when it comes to people with an intellectual disability, things are different. The problem is they donít tend to speak up for themselves. Often when they visit a doctor they shut down so existing health issues stay undiscovered. We try to offer care that is adapted to their situation.

Q: Can you give a concrete example of what the Health Care Program does?

A: We screen the athletes medically and we see unbelievable things sometimes. A lot of athletes have shoe sizes that are two sizes too big or too small. Another example is that 60% of the people we inspect have clogged earsÖ these things should be different.

Q: How do you make that difference?

A: The Healthy Athletes programme in Belgium has a worldwide leading reputation. We are the only country offering seven programs in health care. We also buy and provide the right equipment. In this way medical personnel have their own material and they donít have to loan it from other companies.

Q: Why do you work together with Special Olympics, why is it so unique?

A: The way Special Olympics deals with athletes is amazing. The first time I saw it with my own eyes I was dazzled: their methods, their work ethics, I just had to be a part of it. Health care is just one part of all the things they have to offer and I feel there are still a lot of needs.

Q: Lions Clubs Belgium won an award and Special Olympics Belgium plays a leading role in the world when it comes to health care for people with an intellectual disability. But it doesnít get a lot of attention back home, what is the reason?

A: This is a general problem. Media donít think this is world news and that brings a lot of difficulties for us. When you watch the regular Olympics or the Paralympics everyone jumps on the bandwagon immediately. Our athletes fight just as hard, put just as much effort and compete for the same medals as other athletes. When they arrive at Brussels Airport there is no crowd cheering them home and press is not to be seen anywhere. Itís a shame, really. Iím seeing some progress but there is still a long way ahead of us.

Follow Bavo @BavoD

The Young Reporters Programme has been made possible thanks to the support of the European Union's Erasmus + programme

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