Photos: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo
As soon as we stepped onto the basketball court of the Center for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP), we witnessed a truly inspiring spectacle in front of us. A group of 16 women with disabilities, of different ages, were playing basketball in their wheelchairs, making basket after basket. We too shared the excitement of the players, when they shouted in joy every time they made a basket, and made playful jabs at each other for missing a shot. What seemed even more incredible to us, however, was the fact they were helping each other do better in a sport that a lot of them hadn't even heard of hitherto.
To help reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with disability, CRP in association with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is putting up a first of its kind training camp. Their goal is big, but attainable - to form a Women's Wheelchair Basketball Team that will be able to take part in different friendly matches, tournaments and eventually in the Paraolympic Games.
Despite the hectic training schedule that starts at 8.30 in the morning and continues the whole day with a number of intervals in between, these players don't seem tired at all.
In Bangladesh it is not uncommon for people with physical disabilities to be stigmatised, as they are generally excluded from education, employment and community life, which deprive them of opportunities essential to their social development, health and well-being. A woman with disability from an underprivileged background is often times even more vulnerable to different forms of discrimination.
“The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) believes that, sport in this regard, helps reduce the stigma and discrimination because it can transform community attitudes about persons with disabilities by highlighting their skills and aptitudes, eventually highlighting the person rather than his/her disability,” opines Rayhan Sultana, Communication officer, ICRC. “Engaging in sports, in turn, allows people with disabilities to get an opportunity to be as active as non-disabled people. In addition, the rehabilitative impact of being involved in a sport – physically and psychologically - is immeasurable.”
“Presently, there are 16 women participating in the training. As patients of CRP, they used to play basketball in the afternoon just as a recreational activity. During that time, they were not aware of the rules and regulations of the game. From these patients, we have shortlisted 16 women, depending on the stage of their disability and their knowledge about the game,” says Nahid Parvez, the coach who has been arduously training these talented women for the last two weeks.
Parvez himself was a basketball player, but when it comes to wheelchair basketball, the rules and regulations are completely different, he says. In order to teach them the game, he had to first learn the rules himself. He completed a one-month training in wheelchair basketball and did some background research by surfing the internet.
“Operating the wheelchair while passing the ball within a strict time span - the idea seemed totally impossible to me in the beginning. But now we feel like playing all the time. This is the only time when we can set aside our sadness of being wheelchair ridden, and concentrate on our potential and ability,” says Kamrun Nahar Shampa, who has come all the way from Jessore.
“I remember the first day we played, our hands were aching. Later, after we were given therapy, the situation started becoming easier for us. It's a new sport for many of us, but that is the challenge that all of us have embraced, happily and eagerly,” says Marzana Akhtar, who previously was a patient of CRP. This time, however, she has a very different goal, something that will help her break the constant stigma that she faces for being differently-abled, believes Marzana.
The journey of achieving the goal of forming a national team that would be able to engage in different international tournaments is not an easy one. But if proper assistance from the government and other non-government organisations is provided, nothing can keep the team from fulfilling their dream.