Typically I like to sleep late on weekends, but the mornings are when I play and coach basketball. From March 2009-Februrary 2012 I coached basketball on Saturday nights at the Delhi YMCA. But in Nepal, the basketball action seems to happen in the mornings. I came to Nepal as a VSO volunteer in June and most recently on Sundays I wake up at 6:30 AM, my friend Raj Kumar picks me up at 7 and by 7:30 we are on the courts at Arunodaya Academy in Swoyambhu, waiting for the team to roll in from their home about one kilometer away.
I see the smiles on the guy’s faces as their attendants lift/roll them down the stairs to get to the courts, many of them with their urine bags attached to their wheelchairs. I see the amazement of the children at Arunodaya Academy as they watch the guys play basketball. This is no ordinary basketball team, but is an Army wheelchair basketball team, showing up with the same enthusiasm of any other athletic team, ready to take on all opponents. These guys are different as they can’t jump for rebounds or shoot a jump shot, can’t run up and down the court, although in their wheelchairs they can move fairly quickly, but not as efficiently as someone in a specialized sports wheelchair. These guys can set a pick, although sometimes their chairs get tangled up, can play defense, although sometimes their leg rests extend out too far and can shoot a basketball on a regulation hoop, although sometimes their shots are way off because they can’t get the same lift as someone who can jump. The athletes on this team can even “run” plays, do a three person weave and make layups.
This team is full of young guys, who might have been injured in the Maoist conflict, injured by a land mine and spent years in a hospital rehabbing, or maybe they were injured in a car accident or fell and injured their spinal cord to the point where they could no longer use their legs to walk. Some of these guys are married, have children and want to be productive members of Nepali society. Those who are married, have incredible wives who have overcome prejudice and who as one wife told me, “look beyond disability”, who are strong women in their own right, enduring sometimes years of a family not accepting their husband and his “fate”.
The guys on this team and other persons with physical disabilities tell me that without sports they would be depressed, have bed sores, have little exposure to society and have problems such as urinary tract infections. These guys are artists, weight lifters, advocates for themselves and other Persons with Disability. These guys and their wives struggle to live a life like any other couple. But there are also the guys who can’t find a wife because they are in a wheelchair, can’t find a job, which is most of these guys, because employers won’t give them an opportunity, even though there is nothing wrong with their minds, their arms or their eye site.
While in India, working for the National Trust, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India, I learned a lot about Persons with Developmental Disabilities . One of the popular words coined by our Joint Secretary was “Discoverabilities”, i.e. looking beyond a person’s disability to truly discover their abilities and is based on society being inclusive and providing opportunities. I saw a full range of Persons with Disability doing the same thing as anybody else in society, having the same aspirations, but needing more accessibility and opportunity in order to live out their dreams. But I also heard a lot about the myths as to why someone had a disability. At the National Trust we worked a lot on overcoming these myths through an all India discoverability awareness campaign known as Badhte Kadam. The fourth year of this campaign was completed in November 2012 by the National Trust throughout India.
I recently attended the first “Career Expo for Persons with Disability” in Nepal, a good start. Through my association with Persons with Disability I know that a lot more is needed for the athletes on “my team”. I know that these guys need to be recognized for their talents, need to have opportunities to participate in sports on a regular basis, have a job to go to in order to earn for themselves and their families, for those not married they need opportunities to find a woman to marry, but mostly they need, like all of us, to have dreams, which society will help them to achieve.
The athletes on “my team” inspire me, just for who they are and what they are trying to do. I complain to myself when I miss a shot or make a bad pass, but the reality is that even as I get older I can still jump a rebound or shoot a jump shot. Maybe I can’t run as fast or am not as quick as I once was, but for the guys on “my team” they just keep rolling on, and hopefully we can help them to discoverabilities.
 Michael is a VSO volunteer working at both VSO Nepal and Community Self-Reliance Centre in Dhapasi. His primary role is to build new partnerships, specifically in the corporate and media sectors for both organisations. When not working you can usually find Michael on the basketball courts either playing or coaching. You can reach Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org