Paralympics 2012: some Africans think a disabled person in the family must be a curse, says Ghana flag-bearer
September 29, 2012
Disability is often regarded with suspicion in Africa. In some places, even those without disabilities are finding it difficult to survive so imagine how much more difficult it is if you do not have eyes, or legs or an arm.
Some of our parents and grandparents back in Africa did not pay much attention to what is going on in the world, have ignored TV and radio, and are not well-informed.
They have stuck to what they believed in the past — that a disabled person in the family must be a grandfather’s curse, or this person must have done something wrong and that has what has caused them to be like this.
It is about education, and in Africa, Paralympic sportsmen like myself – I suffered from polio when I was six and lost my legs – can help to change things. The truth is that disability can be more in your head than in your body. It is caused by a lack of education and information.
Our team of four elite disabled sportspeople of Ghana at these Games have taken it upon ourselves to change perception, and change people’s minds about disability.
Funding from our government is so low that finding the best equipment as the rest of the world’s elite paralympians get better and better is an issue for us. I started playing sports when I was 15, and it has taken me 10 years to become a professional. And I’m one of the lucky ones because these are my third Games.
My nation has never bought me any equipment. They always come in to support me in major competition, but it seems the wrong way round. The biggest difficulty for young disabled people in sport is getting from the first level upwards. That needs to change. We need to support our young athletes with funding for equipment, training and travel: that is one of the greatest challenges.
Many of us have been forced to look away from the government to find support. ‘Right to Dream’ is our programme in Ghana which is being funded by many businesses to help the next generation of athletes.
The programme helped set up training camps at the University of Exeter and at the official National Paralympic Committee training camp in Bedford: we spent a fortnight there, training and competing in warm-ups against athletes from the Ivory Coast, Senegal, Morocco, Lesotho and Tunisia.
It has helped us get four athletes to the Paralympics – myself and Anita Fordjour in wheelchair racing, powerlifter Charles Narh Teye and paracyclist Alem Mumuni – which is the most Ghana has ever had. We were all there at the opening ceremony last night and I had the honour of being the flag-bearer. It was a very proud moment for me because I’m at my third Games. The pleasure for me is to be in this team and see my young team-mates competing.
We see this as our big year, not least because London has sold 2.5 million tickets, which is staggering. It makes me so, so happy because this shows that people want to embrace and understand disabled issues. The way the London Olympics was branded together with the Paralympics has put disability sport in the foreground.
It’s a huge platform and we can use these Games to spread the word about disability issues. The message is simple: having a disability should not hold you back. Everybody is unique in this world, and if you support that uniqueness, the rest will come.
We are looking beyond the Paralympic Games. Winning a medal is part of the dream, but because we qualified to be here, that already makes us winner. We are here to make a mark, put the message across, sow the seeds for the next generation of disabled athletes. We are on a mission.