Sreelatha (second from left) along with her LA contingent posing with RDT Program Director, Moncho Ferrer
When 15-year-old Yelikeri Sreelatha began her journey, many people considered her to be an insignificant child with special needs. Hailing from Kannepalli, a small village in the Kalyandurg Mandal of Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh, Sreelatha is the elder of the two children in the family. Her mother started working as a daily wage labourer after losing her husband, and she has been supporting her children as a single mother.
Sreelatha was admitted to one of the many schools for children with intellectual disabilities, run by an NGO named Rural Development Trust (RDT) across Anantapur district. It was in this school where her teachers recognised her skills in sports at the age of 15.
Following this, they helped her join RDT’s Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) program, along with 33 other individuals in 2012. RDT’s centre in Bathalapalli implements programs for young people with intellectual disabilities to help them become independent, by providing vocational training and education, along with training in basic life skills and sports.
Sreelatha continued training there and sports was used as a medium to provide her with a purpose in life. She chose badminton and was quick to pick up the game.
Her interest in the sport was taken a step further after she was selected to represent Special Olympics Bharat through ‘unified sport’, which is a concept promoted by Special Olympics to encourage able bodied individuals to play and interact with individuals living with disabilities. Her first outing as an international athlete to Special Olympics Asia Pacific Games, Australia, was a dream come true. The simple news of her travelling to Australia turned her and her team-mates into celebrities in their own right.
The outing was more than just an overseas trip as she came back a champion with two gold medals and a bronze medal. But more importantly, it provided her with the exposure she needed for a surge in her self-confidence and self-esteem. Special Olympics Bharat is a National Sports Federation accredited by Special Olympics International to conduct Special Olympics Programs in India.
Later, she was selected for the Table Tennis Competition at Special Olympics LA World Games 2015. This time around, she travelled with 12 more RDT supported athletes who represented Special Olympics Bharat in various disciplines such as badminton, powerlifting, basketball, volleyball, handball and football.
Sreelatha after her Mixed Doubles final at LA
The RDT contingent came back with a staggering haul of 17 medals, 2 of which were bagged by Sreelatha herself (a gold and a silver). The total of 17 medals won by the RDT athletes included 3 gold, 5 silver and 9 bronze medals.
Sreelatha, along with her team-mates, has benefited from RDT’s CBR program in a great way, including the vocational, education and sports specific training provided to them by Spanish coaches and volunteers. Despite their rural origins, they are the only few who have travelled great distances, been to foreign lands, and can be considered some of India’s finest athletes and individuals.
Among its various need-based welfare programs for the development of marginalised sections of the society, RDT also works with people with disabilities to ensure that they have equal opportunities in all fields of life.