By Iortsor Avadoo Sarah (YES 2012-2013, Nigeria, placed by YFU in Lexington Park, MD)
When I first learned of my acceptance into the YES program, I envisioned my year in the United States as an opportunity to visit all the places I had only seen on television. I was elated and wrote down all the cities I wanted to visit during my stay. But I soon realized that visiting the country itself was not the most important thing; rather, it was the bond I formed with others and the new perspectives I gained. It was how a simple track and field event could shape my mentality and how I would come to grow and develop.
I was placed with an awesome host family during my time in Maryland. Both of my host sisters had disabilities – one had autism and the other a physical disability. My host sisters were extremely smart and could do almost every sport. One day, we traveled to New Jersey for a track and field event, where I met other members of my host family who also had disabilities. At the track event, ready to cheer my family on, I realized that almost everyone participating had a disability. They were fast, athletic, and driven. I marveled at how the community organized the event and how they came together to make it a success. I loved watching family members cheer for the participants from the sidelines, and I loved the happiness on the winners’ and family members’ faces when someone won an event.
This experience made me reflect on the lack of these types of events in my home country of Nigeria. There are millions of Nigerians with a disability. People with disabilities (PWDs) in Nigeria face a lot of stigma and discrimination. Some people in Nigeria believe disabilities are either a spiritual attack or payment for misdeeds. People with disabilities in Nigeria do not have access to basic social services or employment opportunities, and this has only worsened because of the COVID-19 pandemic. PWDs are often denied basic human rights in Nigeria, and there is little accessible infrastructure.
The YES Benue Sports Tournament was my response to this issue. With funding from a YES Alumni Grant, I organized this project for the students of the Benue State Rehabilitation Center in Apir, a school for those with hearing impairments. The event aimed to promote social inclusion for PWDs through sports. Seventy-three students competed in football, volleyball, badminton, and track and field events during the tournament. Students learned sports they didn’t previously know, and members of the community turned out to help and join in on the fun. At the end of the tournament, the winners of each sport received awards. Students from the neighboring school also came to cheer on their friends and participate.
The event was not only fun for the children; it also served to raise awareness among the community members and shape a more positive mindset toward PWDs. The community eagerly helped and accepted guidance and direction on working with and talking about PWDs. Some community members and students said the school has been neglected by the government and things have been challenging at the school for a while. The students were appreciative of the exciting day and the fact that they now have a field set up for sports, as my project team and I cleaned up and restored the field before the project began.
Our hope is that our next project will be an inter-school competition for Benue State. We want to reach an even larger audience in promoting social inclusion and ending discrimination for PWDs.
I’m extremely grateful to have taken part in the YES program, for the people I met, and the country that shaped my mentality and future. I’m also grateful that I got to participate in the YES Sports for Development and Peace Workshop in Kuwait in April 2018. The knowledge I gained from the workshop helped form the path for this project.
Many thanks to my host family for their patience, love, and all the knowledge they gave me. I’m grateful to the Benue State Rehabilitation Center for letting me carry out this project, to the students for their eager participation, to the people who contributed to this project, to the Apir community, and to my team members. And I’m grateful to my mother for her words of encouragement when my carefully planned project didn’t always go as planned.
I’m grateful to the sponsors of this project, the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Thank you for awarding me this grant and helping to impact my life and the beneficiaries of this project.