Friday, 29 April 2016

People, Progress and Sport

There I was, sitting at the main taxi station in the heat, preparing for my first radio sensitisation, when a man physical disability who couldn't walk was dragging himself across the dusty floor.
Five minutes later I saw a similarly disabled man – again with a physical disability preventing him from the use of one of his legs. However this man was different – he was not dragging himself on the filthy floor, but moving fairly quickly with the aid of crutches. In Ghana, you notice these basic but profound inequalities, especially with disabled people. Crutches are a basic necessities for the physically disabled and yet there are many people without them.

Ghana, comparatively, is no different from the majority of the world. We in 'the West' sometimes lack sufficient hindsight to see how poorly we once treated those less fortunate than ourselves. The UN made a Declaration on the Rights of People with Disability only in 1975. This was followed by the 2006 Convention on disability rights. We are talking about a mere two generations of progress with the rights of disable people. So it is hardly surprising that Ghana, a country which only gained independence in 1957 - and which has faced serious challenges in its development as a nation - should still need more work done to improve the lives of persons with disabilities.

Much of what we are trying to do is to help Ghana meet its laws. Our baseline research team, who audit public buildings for their accessibility to disabled people, have found serious limitations in the majority of buildings. Sometimes the reasons are bureaucratic, often they are financial, but mostly the reasons are time. Ghana's disability act only came into being from 2006 – just over 10 years ago. The Northern Region of Ghana has not seen the same burst in development that the southern and central regions of the country have. One of the things ICS taught us in our training days is that positive change does not happen quickly, and it certainly does not happen equally.

It is easy to feel demoralised by the challenges we face as a disability resource centre in an impoverished region of an impoverished continent. But every now and then we come across a spark of enthusiasm, a laugh, a smile - a passion for justice and coexistence. Our past week, I think, has enlivened that.

On Saturday we went to the old stadium in Tamale to watch local disabled people play wheelchair basketball. At the corner of this dusty barren 'field' was a cracked old basketball court in serious need of resurfacing. But despite its state of disrepair, this court held some cracking games. The first game was 3 men against 3 women (there are only 6 wheelchairs to use) and was very hard-fought. The great thing about watching this was to see the energy and excitement the game generated, not just in the players but in the sizeable crowd – both disabled and non-disabled. People were there to support their friends and to enjoy a pretty high standard of basketball. Of course, nothing lasts forever, alas, the standards dropped severely when we were offered to play. It is safe to say that we struggled a bit. Our respect for the people who played before us has no bounds. The strength and fitness of the wheelchair users was really highlighted by the fact that we could barely even reach the net, let alone score.

Wheelchair Basketball at the Old Stadium

Finally, this Thursday we went to Tamale Senior High School (Tamasco) to conduct a refresher sensitisation which would gauge how effective the previous cohort's sensitisations were. Two months after their previous sensitisation, the aged 16+ students really had remembered most of what they were taught. What was most impressive was the enthusiasm they showed when talking about persons with disabilities. They genuinely felt that disabled people deserved to be valued members of society and more must be done to help them.

The road is long, but judging by the interest and knowledge displayed by the younger generations, I feel that positive change is coming to Ghana in its own way, and will surely promote other parallels in this vibrant and fascinating part of the world.

Martin Farrugia (Marley)

Find out more about our work in Ghana and how you can get involved here

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