Thursday, December 12, 2013

All-Inclusive Football

                                          Football Crazy, Football Mad...

Our LIFE Project (Local Inclusive Festival Project) football programme was fixed for the 28th of November. The ‘Feok Sporting Games’ were to be well under way by then and large crowds would be used to gathering at the football stadium! Our team - containing both able-bodied and disabled players – was to promote an all-inclusive brand of football; showing the wider Builsa community the abilities of the disabled players. The reason for the creation of our project was that people with disabilities were often ignored when it came to the organisation and make-up of the Feok events; then on the day didn’t have safe spaces created so they could spectate. Through advocacy work by our volunteers and local partners at Presby Community Based Rehabilitation, the organising committee decided we could host a large event right in the middle of the games celebrations. It would involve a match between two teams, one from Builsa South and the other from Builsa North, where Sandema is based. The main obstacle to this was that we had no training equipment, football kits, footballs… or a full squad of players! Luckily though, as we mentioned in our last blog, a previous team of IS volunteers that were based in Sandema had made contacts with some local coaches (Coach Sampson – the glue who held our team together); who in turn had made contacts with local disabled players.

So, with the date secured but our work still cut out, we set about visiting different Disabled Persons Organisations (DPOs) and local schools to find the players our previous cohort had helped identify - plus hopefully a few more gems - for our team. After numerous engagement meetings and training sessions; we ended up with a team composed of players from the Gbeogo School for the Deaf; St. John’s Integrated School and the Sansec Senior High School. A colleague (thanks Bawa!) of ours took over the organisation of the Builsa South side, to help ease the workload for us; however we did meet them to initially help set up the side as well as to give them a ball, in order for them to train. The team immediately set in motion some training sessions, with coach Sampson doing everything he could to help make the team a success. This was the first time that people with disabilities took an active part in the Feok festival; in a year where we’d also helped secure space and time for different DPOs to perform and spectate safely. It was all coming together!

 The day of the match arrived and it was clear it wasn’t only going to be just 11 versus 11 on a simple field, it was to be a showcase; over 500 people were in attendance and the town was buzzing with excitement. Coach Sampson had organised 2 training sessions; one at 5.30am (!) and another at 2pm - everyone was taking it extremely seriously. Rumours came up from the South that their team were training just as hard and were confident of getting the result. Kick off was pushed back to 4pm due to the strong Ghanaian sun and it was then that the boys in brown (one of the nicknames of German team St. Pauli; who donated the kits) took the pitch with the Builsa South side – they looked evenly matched it terms of physicality and age; it was going to be a worthy encounter!

Before the game kicked off both teams took part in a ‘Celtic Huddle’; I promise that no pressure was put on the teams to do this… Builsa North took the lead not long in to the game and looked in control but Builsa South were evidently just slow starters, they soon took control of the match 30 minutes in to the first half and scored 2 in quick succession at the best times possible: just before and after half-time. Builsa North needed to find some strength from somewhere and it came in the form of a wonder goal with 15 minutes to go – a very fitting way to end the spectacle! All parties decided that it was an appropriate way to conclude despite significant pressure from the large crowd who wanted more in the form of a penalty shout-out! The most important thing for us was that all the players enjoyed it, which they assured us that they did; they were the talk of their schools and talk of the town. After everyone was fed and had received some small St. Pauli packages, we bid them farewell, after a long but exceptionally rewarding day.

Even now as I travel through the town I see stickers on random shops and motorbikes adorned with the St. Pauli crest. Not at a lot of people here were aware of St.Pauli beforehand, but the same can’t be said now. The warmth and support shown by the club and its supporters in the support of the LIFE project was overwhelming and on behalf of all of us; we’d like to say a massive thank you to the club and more specifically Sonke and Henrik – thanks guys!

It had been a long 2 days for our team and everyone involved with the football but we were thrilled at how it turned out. So many children and young people were in attendance – these are the people who’d be the future teachers; assembly men and women and general foundations of Sandema as a community. To give them such a positive and constructive view of persons with disabilities would serve as a progressive step on the road to a fully inclusive society and for greater advocacy on disability rights in the Builsa district. We’re all proud that our effort served as a continuation of the extraordinary work put in over the last 20 years by Presbyterian Community Based Rehabilitation here in Sandema. We’re sure there will be plenty more events like this in the future!

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