BlazeSports International facilitator Jill Valentine believes children living with disability in Uganda can grow into legit Paralympians given consistent training and sporting opportunities through all ages. “I feel there’s a gap. Kids participate in events like these but [as they grow] they’re missing the chance to train well in these sports, with skilled coaches and other staff,” Valentine told Daily Monitor after the closure of the Sports for Youth with Disabilities Initiative on June 8.
“Kids seriously need this training so that by the time they are adults and being selected to compete at the Paralympics, they are not learning something new, instead they have been practicing it throughout the years.
“In the long-term athlete development pathway, there’s the ‘train to compete phase’ which I think is lacking here. You know when a kid is maybe 9 years and feels ‘I love wheelchair basketball’ they can’t play with the adults but there should be an opportunity for them to be practicing between the ages of 12 and 15. That’s the gap that needs to be bridged.”
The USAID-funded project, coordinated by the Uganda Paralympics Committee, since January 2017, has not only trained athlete trainers but also granted funds to beneficiaries in Kampala and Gulu.
Valentine, who first volunteered in Uganda in 2011, sees signs of progress, with more schools creating adaptive sports opportunities for children with disabilities. “But more is needed,” she said. “Because I know many schools with handicapped children but they are still not included in the physical education programs. I need to see more children involved, more teachers trained on how to include them…and more sporting opportunities for the youths.”
She added that sports being a powerful tool for change, the media needs to cover elite parathletes like David Emong more so that they inspire the young ones.