Africa, Development & Aid, Education, Headlines, Poverty & SDGs

Football Leaves Legacy of Hope in Namibia

Patience Nyangove

WINDHOEK, Jul 11 2010 (IPS) - Throughout the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, organisers have insisted that the legacy of the event goes far beyond the sporting spectacle. In the dusty streets of a Windhoek township, Deon Namiseb believes this is true.

Katutura is one of 20 sites where a Football for Hope Centre is being constructed. The Fédération International de Football Association (FIFA), in conjunction with Special Olympics Namibia and the streetfootballworld network are establishing a facility where people with disabilities can play football alongside their non-disabled counterparts, helping to overcome widespread discrimination.

“My main aim is that the community be involved,” says Namiseb, standing proud and serious in his worn-out golf shirt, red shorts and tennis shoes. “They should come and enjoy themselves and be part of what we are doing here and we share knowledge in whatever aspect of life.”

Namiseb was born with an intellectual disability and an under-developed right hand. For all of his 32 years of life, he has been shunned by most in his community.

Despite this, he briefly coached a female football team in Okahandja, a small town some 70 kilometres outside Windhoek. He says the Centre will offer him the first opportunity to play football alongside able-bodied people, across lines of prejudice that have shaped his life.

“It’s difficult to grow up your whole life being made aware left, right and centre that you are different from the majority of people,” he says. “Some people don’t even want to come near you as if you have leprosy or  some other infectious disease.

“I might be disabled but I am not any different from anyone and I am hoping that through this initiative the able-bodied youth soccer players we will play alongside will be our ambassadors to society and tell them that disability does not make anyone lesser human,” Namiseb told IPS at the Centre’s bricklaying ceremony.

“We are the same and we are capable of doing what any other person can do.”

The Football for Hope Centre in Katutura will provide facilities to more than 1,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities as well as other members of the community. In addition to sport, the Centre will help athletes acquire basic computer literacy skills and provide education on reproductive and sexual health.

“Because we are disabled one way or the other does not mean our bodies behave differently from other human beings,” Namiseb says.

“We have the same needs. The fact that we will be taught more about our bodies is wonderful. I know for a fact that most disabled women are sexually abused and if they are made aware of what sexual  abuse is, it will help them to protect themselves against it.

“I will try to use my one strong hand for the computer lessons,” he says, a big smile on his face, “it does not matter that I might not get a job to use these skills but the knowledge is valuable.”

Able-bodied Joe Shipala also hopes to be part of the initiative. He says he only came to realise the unfair discrimination against people with disabilities when his mother was involved in a car accident and had to have her legs amputated.

“It was an eye-opener and seeing  my mother being discriminated hurts so much. Our father even divorced her after the accident because he did not want a wheelchair-bound wife. But I can’t disown my mother because of disability; she did not choose to be that way and I don’t see her any different.”

He says he wants to be part of this initiative to show society that disability does not mean inability.

Shipala also says if admitted to the programme, he will stand to benefit from the computer training which he will use when he finishes his diploma in commerce.

The national director of Special Olympics Namibia, Stay-C Namases, feels sport is very important for those with intellectual disabilities, because it can bring them together on an equal footing with people who usually shun them.

“Sport is very vital to those who are disabled because it helps to integrate them into mainstream society. People don’t want to interact with them, they discriminate [against] them. [Sport] is a tangible initiative that can bring the disabled and the non-disabled to one place were they come play, have fun and interact together,” Namases told IPS.

Namiseb, who lives with his mother says he is grateful to FIFA and the Special Olympics for making the resources for the Centre available.

“After all the discrimination we have gone through it’s touching to know that someone  remembers, someone cares about us. Although we can’t pay back with money I hope that our smiles are enough to show them how grateful we are.”

The Football for Hope initiative foresees the establishment of 20 centres across Africa. In addition to the Katutura Centre, facilities in South Africa, Ghana, Mali Rwanda and Kenya have already opened or are near completion.

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