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 heights of the civil war in Uganda.
I am scared, the one place that was supposed to be safe, our home, is not safe anymore. Since then my life changed completely. I was one among thousands of night commuters, our parents sacrificed to stay, and 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 incidence I experienced. Due to the war many people became victims of landmines, injuries, as well as diseases like polio, which increased the number of disabled people in the region.
Children and youth 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 teased and not integrated by fellow peers. Knowing how passionate and interactive they are, I developed empathy. because I could observe how they lost self-esteem and 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 the non-disabled children and it changed the attitude of the disabled 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 it with my passion of sports. Thus I later became an adaptive sports trainer of trainers.
“My ability” is what defines me.
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 how my disabled teammates have the skills to fall, get back into their wheelchair and play as if they had never done something different.
Later, I became interested in deaf people playing football, basketballs 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 the 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 include my self into 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 you need 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.