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."

Successful Saturday at Pece Stadium

24 Jun


Spectators gather around the court for a great view of a great game

Various tents lined the grounds of the stadium providing the health services that I describe below

This past weekend, Concordia Volunteer Abroad Program (CVAP) which is a student volunteer organization based in Montreal, Canada held a soccer (football) tournament at the local stadium in Gulu to raise awareness for various illness and diseases. Free services offered at this event included: HIV/AIDS test, safe male circumcision, TB screening, Malaria screening, blood donations, and cervical cancer screening. The event also inevitably included live music, dance, and local crafts for sale. Unfortunately, due to scheduling problems, a deaf soccer team was not able to open the tournament with a match but the wheelchair basketball games went off without a hitch!

 A big group looks for the rebound as I await my chance from the 3-point line

Local participants of wheelchair basketball who often play at the GDPU court gathered to play a game prior to the soccer tournament beginning Friday afternoon. The first game was a spirited, albeit brief game and was a nice kick-start to the two-day event. Saturday however was the main event as fans left the stadium stands and gathered around the court as a full 40-minute basketball game took place. I was fortunate enough to be invited to play on one of the squads for one half, as were a few CVAP volunteers. Being a very competitive person, I remember my stats as: 0-2 shooting, 4 assists, and a blocked shot in 20 minutes on the court. I played my role well as a distributor of the ball, not a scorer of it. At the conclusion of my playing role I went back to the sidelines to keep score and snap a couple of pictures.

 GDPU basketball jerseys

I was shocked at the conclusion of the game that a lot of the players thanked me for playing with them. Thank me? I was in awe the entire game of the skill and speed that these players played with. I was just happy that I got the invite and felt included as more than a casual observer. And then you begin to realize that this must be a similar feeling for them. These people with disabilities made up of various ages, backgrounds, and ailments, getting the spotlight on them for 40 minutes. People gathered around the court to watch and admire them for their athletic talent and skill, not their disability. This was their acceptance, not so dissimilar from the acceptance I felt by being included in the game. And this is the magic of these rehabilitative sports initiatives and why I have become so interested in them. They provide a form of expression; an outlet for these people who often times can feel neglected by other societal norms that they don’t have the opportunity to participate in.

Certificate of participation for the GDPU wheelchair basketball squad

So in closing, I heard a phrase at this weekends event that I think fits nicely with the theme of this blog post, “Disability is not inability.” It’s clear that these wheelchair basketball players have taken this to heart and they put on a great show for a big crowd on Saturday.

 As always, thank you, or, apwoyo matek (Luo language), for following my blog. I have been getting a lot of great feedback outside of the ones on here and I am glad I can provide a glimpse of what life is like in Gulu and what’s being done to increase awareness and acceptance of people with disabilities in northern Uganda.

Posted By John Steies

Posted Jun 24th, 2013

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