Thoughts and Questions on Turkish Airlines ENGAGE Empowering League and Taking this Forward

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Thoughts on Turkish Airlines ENGAGE Empowering League

For the very first time in Nepal a wheelchair basketball league has been successfully implemented.  For seven consecutive Saturdays, all of those involved traveled to various sites in Kathmandu and Lalitpur with for the most part inaccessible courts and bathrooms.  The Turkish Airlines ENGAGE Empowering League is a winner and in the men’s division came down to the final game in order to crown a champion.  Although accountability, focus, communication and follow through are major issues those associated with ENGAGE can feel very proud about this accomplishment. 

From the players, to the numerous volunteers, ENGAGE staff, sponsors and conveners all should feel proud of their efforts.  But there are also issues that need to be looked at further. 

Let’s start with the venues and reasonable accommodation for the athletes.  Unlike in other parts of the world, in Nepal athletes done seem to have a lot of celebrity status.  This is refreshing to me as in the US professional athletes are making huge sums of money and are treated as “gods”.  However in Nepal this means that athletics may not be supported as they are in other countries.  This showed in a general lack of support by the wider populace for the wheelchair athletes who worked so hard just to get to the venues.  In general, the venues were not accessible with none of the bathrooms being accessible.  In fact at one venue where games were held for three of the Saturdays, the bathrooms were incredibly dirty and those nearest to the court were not even opened.   This begs the question as to how we create more respect for the athletes and those trying to help create more opportunities for them.  How do we get more people to support these athletes who on a daily basis are overcoming huge obstacles just to be able to move around?   How do we create reasonable accommodation, removing barriers, for our athletes with disabilities, in order for them to play like anyone else?

Although the media did place a few articles and pictures overall it was difficult to get reporters to take an interest in the League.  I realize that in Nepal many times one has to provide incentives in order to get coverage.  But how do we, i.e. those working with people with disabilities or those engaged in activities working with other disadvantaged groups, help the media to further understand why they need to collaborate in creating more social awareness?  For many of us working in this area we feel a great sense of passion but how do we get others to also feel this?

Training is very important from physical, mental and emotional perspectives.  Some of the teams, e.g. the Army, have greater access to regular training through decent courts, while others don’t.  Transportation can be a huge barrier as public vehicles are not wheelchair accessible.  It’s tough enough for those of us without a physical disability to just cross the street.  But for those with a disability trying to navigate the streets of Kathmandu is extremely difficult.  However, the athletes don’t let this stop them as they have a strong drive to play and socialize.  How do those of us providing training maintain the continuity in practices so that this is something to look forward to?  Is there a way for us to provide even further training by engaging more coaches so that practices can occur on more than one day every week?  Can we also find the transportation enabling games outside of a league?

Awareness raising, especially in schools, showing the capabilities of people with disabilities is vital to creating  further societal inclusion.  ENGAGE is doing this, through a grant from the Swiss Embassy in Nepal, but funds are limited.  Is it possible for the children learning about people with disabilities and their capabilities to speak at other schools?  How can the media participate in this?

The number of young Nepalis that volunteered for the League was great.  This included not only the coaches but also volunteers who came every week for seven weeks to ensure that things ran smoothly.  All of the volunteers have the capacity to create more awareness about people with disabilities.  Now that the League is completed the question is how to continue to engage these volunteers on an on-going basis?  It is expected that the coaches will continue, although many are looking to continue their education possibly in another country.  How do we find more volunteer coaches willing to give their time on a consistent basis?   

Just doing something in Nepal is very challenging as there are numerous barriers, relationships and other issues which need to be dealt with.  The Turkish Airlines ENGAGE Empowering League has been a testament to what fortitude, persistence and desire can achieve.  This has been a good step forward in dis(cover)abilities.  It’s now up to all of us, especially those without a physical disability to remove barriers, creating a more inclusive society. 






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