Tak! Tung! Boom, boom! I hear gunshots around me. My crying mother runs to pick me up. We run to a protected shelter nearby.
I was 7 years old, and this was 1997, at the height of the civil war in Uganda. I was scared. The one place that was supposed to be safe, our home, was not safe anymore.
Since then my life has changed completely. I was one among thousands of night commuters whose parents sacrificed for us to stay. We children had to sleep in protected shelters and under verandahs of shops in town for safety. The only thing that distracted me from these nightmares was playing football with my friends. It made me laugh and forget the terrible incidents I experienced.
Due to the war, many people became victims of landmines and injuries, as well as diseases like polio, which increased the number of disabled people in the region.
Children with disabilities are labeled, stigmatized and discriminated by their non-disabled peers. They are seen as useless and no-one wants to play with them. Even in their homes, they are not given the opportunity to be useful in their own way. They are often hidden from the community.
I remember two disabled children in our neighborhood: Sam, a landmine victim, and Saidi, who had Polio. Both were bullied and excluded by fellow peers. Knowing how passionate and interactive they are, I developed empathy because I could observe how they lost self-esteem. Later they even dropped out of school. I felt bad and encouraged my peers to include them in games, activities and even our football team. This greatly changed the mindset of non-disabled children, and it changed the attitudes of the disabled children towards themselves.
At a certain point in my life, I experienced what it was like to be labeled and body shamed. For the first time, I could relate to what being disabled feels like. That was the day I was not allowed to play in the Gulu kids’ football team as I didn’t have the required build. Being a passionate football player, I was hurt, and for a short period, I lost my confidence. It was the first time that my physical appearance became my disability.
In the end it strengthened my interest to do something to overcome this attitude. With a good amount of anger, I decided to stand up for those who remain outsiders, facing stigma and discrimination because of their disability. Therefore, I pursued my studies in special needs education and I combined that with my passion for sports. Thus I later became an adaptive sports trainer of trainers.
In order to understand the beauty of inclusive sports, I had to learn to play wheelchair basketball.
Being a “walker,” I felt disabled trying to wheel and balance, and at the same time learning how to handle the ball. While playing, I needed a lot of practice to enjoy the speed, the turnings, and the falls. The beauty of this game is when you race past your opponent and show your skills of maneuvering the wheelchair in a professional manner. While playing, I am always amazed by how my disabled teammates have the skills to fall, get back into their wheelchairs, and play as if they had never done anything differently.
Later, I became interested in deaf people playing football, basketball, and athletics. One might wonder: “Could they hear the referee’s whistle?” The deaf can play all these games without any limitations. The referee uses two flags: green to continue or start, and red to stop or foul. In deaf football, sign language is the common language used by players and coaches, and I had to learn sign language in order to include myself in the deaf team.
In terms of sports for the blind, one of the many games available is “Showdown.” It is a bit like table tennis. Both players are blindfolded and they have to listen to a ball with a bell inside. It is fast and requires some training, but it can be played by both the blind and the sighted.
I want to see a society in which disability does not define our ability. With Ability Sports Africa I will foster reverse inclusion through team sports and individual adventures. I want to see togetherness in our community, through which our differences of disability won’t matter anymore.
Posted By Faruk Musema
Posted Jul 24th, 2020