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Wheelchair-bound Players Challenge Uganda's Perceptions

Coaches for the Rebels basketball team go over plays during a break.

For many disabled Ugandans, life is incredibly hard. A lack of accessible buildings, transportation and activities means they end up spending most of their time at home.

But thanks to Uganda’s parasport teams, athletes’ lives are slowly improving.

Joan Nagujja, a volunteer with Uganda's Paralympic Committee, says she found self-confidence through sports.

Naguija said because her hand and leg are paralyzed, she had felt self-conscious. As she grew older, she looked for ways to challenge herself and she discovered sports and that changed how she felt about herself.

She no longer is afraid to talk to people and she now feels proud.

Disabled athletes play basketball as part of Uganda's Wheelchair Basketball Association.
Disabled athletes play basketball as part of Uganda's Wheelchair Basketball Association.

Basketball group

That is the goal of Uganda's Wheelchair Basketball Association: to keep disabled athletes fit, both physically and mentally, while instilling a sense of pride.

The Uganda Disabled Basketball Association began in the northern town of Gulu in 2007 and now has teams across the country.

That association aims to expand its reach internationally. In coming months, members hope to travel to Somalia to train teams, and there's also talk of an international match between Uganda and Kenya.

Their coach, Edwin Mulima, who used to play basketball on Uganda's national team, said he had to learn how to play in a wheelchair when he became their coach.

The team uses special sports wheelchairs, donated by the Lions Club of China service group, for quick maneuvers and to prevent falls.

Mulima said players had it very tough in the beginning, when they used old-style wheelchairs that were hard to control and easier to overturn. The players would often fall.

Funding issues

Along with the basketball association, there are disabled sports associations for rowing, football and swimming. Although they are part of the Uganda Paralympic Committee, they receive very little funding from the government, relying on NGOs for support.

The associations are hoping that as their groups expand across East Africa, so will their budgets.