Whizzing by in the shiny new athletic wheelchairs, you might have thought these children had been playing basketball all their lives. Yet for many of these children with disabilities in Gulu, this was a first-time experience – and they loved it!
Thanks to GDPU, War Child Holland, Motivation UK, Comic Relief, and The Kids’ League, 300 children will have a chance to learn, practice, and compete through a new project, Inclusive Disability Sports for Children in Northern Uganda (IDS). The pilot program started in Gulu, though as recently as July, GDPU exchanged a Memorandum of Understanding with the local government of Nwoya, the newest district in Uganda. Nwoya’s officials have expressed interest and a commitment to make IDS part of their regular programming! (Note: this was a big step, seeing as the local government building where we met wasn’t accessible…see my previous post, “Discrimination’s Veil,” for details!).
A multi-year project supported by Motivation UK, IDS kicked-off its inaugural season in June, training volunteer coaches and recruiting participants from five primary schools: Gulu Primary, St. Jude, Laroo Primary, Laroo Boarding, and Mother Theresa. Tournaments have been taking place all summer long, bringing together more than 50 children with disabilities. They eagerly participated in a variety of games, including wheelchair basketball, showdown (think of a fusion between ping-pong and air hockey, where athletes with visual impairments listen for a ball with a bell inside), volleyball, and baccia (a game that is particularly good for children with more severe physically disabilities).
Explaining the importance of inclusive disability sports programming, GDPU Field Officer, Ojok Patrick, said “This is the first effort to provide opportunities for inclusive sports. The importances are many: one, it raises awareness that disabled children can also play sports. Two, it promotes the physical health of children with disabilities. Three, it creates awareness and advocacy issues for the community.”
Mr. Semakula Fred, GDPU Project Coordinator, added, “Kids in PE at school, they might just be the timekeeper, or stay in the classroom while the others are out. Sport is a tool for social inclusion and self-efficacy for PWD.”
This awareness also spreads to the community as a whole. At home, the children who participate in the IDS program may be able to more easily identify with their parents. Aloya Michael, Coordinator with The Kids’ League, added that these children “want to share what they have learned with their parents. Parents can be surprised to see boys and girls are picked up every evening” to practice and participate in this activity. Additionally, the “community has its own understanding of these boys and girls, so seeing them in this capacity changes that.”
Local officials from Gulu, who were also on hand for the ceremony where GDPU officially received the donated equipment, have gotten behind the program, too. Otto Aldo Okot, the District Sports Officer, announced that starting next year, inclusive sports would be included in the district sports calendar along with all other programming.
Volunteer coach Nume Allan, who also works for one of GDPU’s Member Organizations (Gulu Women With Disabilities), summed up the importance of inclusive disability sports. When asked why it was necessary for children with disabilities to be involved with sports, he did not miss a beat before enthusiastically answering, “Because they are human! They are capable! Disability is not a person. Deaf is not the person. Separate the disability from the person. Treat the person, not the disability. They can do anything!”
Posted By Rebecca Scherpelz (Uganda)
Posted Aug 21st, 2011