John Steies

John Steies (Gulu Disabled Persons Union – GDPU): John received his Bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from Minnesota State University. At the time of his fellowship John was pursuing a Master’s of Public Policy degree at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs where he also served as president of the student group Dialogues in International Security and Peace (DISP). After his fellowship, John wrote: "I can’t speak enough about the power of people from different backgrounds, and those thousands and thousands of miles away from one another, coming together to collaborate on such a wonderful and worthwhile cause."



Inclusive Disability Sports @ GDPU

03 Jul

Ojok Patrick leads a training session for coaches of inclusive disability sports

This past weekend marked the beginning of a GDPU program that I have been particularly excited about and mentioned in a previous blog post. In continuing a tradition that has now spanned 3 years, the GDPU hosted their first Saturday inclusive disability sports for youth event which will now continue for 6 more Saturdays consecutively as the summer goes along. The program has 3 seasons a year that run between March and February.

Dual shot of volleyball for deaf children and wheelchair basketball at the GDPU

I have spoken previously about how important I believe disability sports to be and the ability for it to rehabilitate and build relationships between not just people with disabilities, but those in the community who simply do not know much about the hardships those with disabilities face. The inclusive nature of this program is perfect for those here in Gulu to express themselves through sports.

A game similar to bocce ball, children with disabilities enjoy at GDPUs inclusive disability sports day

This program now supports nearly 600 children with disabilities as well as 120 able-bodied ones who come to participate in the various sports as well. The program is free to them and they are transported Saturday mornings from their respective schools in either Gulu, or two neighboring districts of Amuru and Nwoya, to the GDPU facilities where all of the athletics take place. Teachers also come from the local schools to run the sports so often there is already familiarity and trust between participants and their teachers who have been trained as coaches here at the GDPU at separate sessions.
Some other statistics about the program: 147 females participate, while 273 males make up the rest of the 435. The children who come have many different disabilities with 142 being hearing impaired, 95 with physical walking disabilities, 84 with epilepsy, 60 with intellectual disabilities, 41 with visual impairments, and 13 with physical disabilities requiring a wheelchair.

Showdown, a game tailored for the blind, involves throwing a ball with a noisemaker inside to try and get it past your opponents on the opposing side

The games being played included wheelchair basketball for those with physical disabilities, volleyball for those with hearing impairments, a form of bocce ball for those with developmental disabilities, and a game called showdown for those with visual impairments. I was naturally drawn to the game of showdown as someone of the utmost importance to me, and instrumental to my growth into adulthood, my mother, was blinded by a rare disease 6 years ago and now has 20/20 vision in one of her eyes thanks to multiple cornea transplants. These sports aren’t exclusive to the children whose disability they were designed for either. Blacked out goggles were provided for children to experience Showdown without the aid of sight.

With no blind children present this day, goggles are used to simulate the disability for children who wish to play

A great new branch of this program that the GDPU is starting this session is the teaching of life skills to these children. People with disabilities are at a higher risk of abuse whether it is physical or sexual, and they will be educated about their rights and measures to protect themselves from this type of unfortunate situation. In addition to this critical skill, children will be taught about the importance of personal hygiene and other life skills that apply to any child around the world whether disabled or otherwise. The program runs very smoothly as the children arrive around 9am and begin their respective sports. Athletics continue until around 11am when the students gather under the large trees here for a snack and to discuss the life skill for that day that the GDPU wishes to teach them. It reminds me very much of similar summer programs I attended as a child and it is cool to be a part of something similar but on the educating side this time.

More great volleyball action @ GDPU

All in all, given my intense interest in sports, I am extremely excited to take part in this program for the remaining weeks I am with the GDPU. Educating children under the guise of athletics is a great idea that will deliver results. All kidding aside, this is a worthwhile program that provides children with disabilities not only an athletic outlet and opportunity to meet with friends on the weekends, but also an opportunity to teach them about their rights in a welcoming environment. The GDPU truly is creating a new generation of people with disabilities who will be empowered to not only expand their own rights, but the rights of others as well. In my mind, you could seek no greater progress in a marginalized community than that.
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The GDPU Wheelchair Basketball squads gather for a rousing game

Posted By John Steies

Posted Jul 3rd, 2013

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