By Renalda Lwilla (YES 2013-2014, Tanzania, placed with AYUSA in Colton, OR)
YES alumna Renalda Lwilla called on her YES experience to conduct a sports day at Jeshi La Wokovu primary school in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. During her year abroad, Renalda regularly volunteered at St. James Catholic Church with her host family. She would work with the youth groups, connecting with the students using games and activities. This time spent engaging with youths gave her a lifelong passion for volunteerism and has motivated her to conduct numerous projects in her home country like the Sports Day project at Jeshi La Wokovu, a prominent boarding school dedicated to youth with disabilities. The boarding school provides specialized care to students with disabilities as well as a loving and inclusive community for them to strive in.
Disabled youths are among the most marginalized groups globally. They are more likely to experience homlessness, less likely to continue their education, and more likely to become unemployed in adulthood. In Tanzania specifically, societal stigma and the lack of accommodation for persons with disabilities put this group at a disadvantage when it comes to access to opportunities. Over the past decades, government agencies, local organizations, schools like the Jeshi La Wokovu, and even YES alumni have taken steps to combat the overarching stigma surrounding disabilities in Tanzania and make society more inclusive.
For YES alumna Renalda, one way to fight these stigma is through sports. Sports are often used as a tool to empower youth, giving them important life skills such as teamwork, leadership, and confidence. Renalda not only wanted to strengthen the community at Jeshi La Wokovu, but empower the individual students by demonstrating that with minimal accommodations, they too, can participate in sporting activities. She sees confidence in one’s self as a huge factor in success, and wanted to share this important lesson with the students she worked with. In collaboration with the school’s staff, Renalda carefully selected sporting activities and made adjustments accordingly to accommodate for students’ disabilities. Students at the school were engaged in numerous sporting activities like football, tug of war, jump-rope, musical chairs, and more. The students mostly enjoyed playing football and sack racing. At the end of the day prizes were given out to all of the participants. This project was very successful and impactful because it challenged the idea that students with disabilities can not participate in sporting activities. By the end of the project, students expressed their gratitude to Renalda for planning the activities and most importantly felt empowered.
Renalda has been back to Jeshi La Wokovu twice now for a Sports Day. When she returned the second time, she brought her classmates from Ardhi University. Together, they were able to collect donations of flour, rice, sugar, pens, and pencils to give to the school in addition to the sports activities. She plans to continue this tradition well into the future.
After her time spent at Jeshi La Wokovu, the students and faculty began adopting the slogan, “disability is not inability." Renalda has found that there is room for improvement regarding how society sees disabilities, and she wants to be a part of that positive change by empowering and inspiring youth. She believes that anything is possible when one believes in oneself, and will continue to share this lesson throughout her future projects.