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Playing with a purpose: experiences of inclusive sport in Ethiopia

“I feel free when I play table tennis” says Taye Asfaw.

The 18 year old table tennis player is a regular at his local sports festivals and admits that the encouragement of his peers and coaches have pushed him to compete in regional and national competitions. This was not his story 18 months ago.

“Seeing the table being brought to the youth centre for the purpose of training youth with disabilities made me very happy. The youth centre did not have many games I could join and I was always an observer rather than a player.

“When the Sport for Inclusive Development project launched I felt developed a sense of ownership and confidence,” he says.

Taye lives in Shimbit, a community in the Ethiopian city of Bahir Dar. In April 2013, the Cheshire Foundation for Action and Inclusion, in partnership with International Inspiration (IN), launched their first inclusive sport programme. The Cheshire Foundation works with IN to design a programme that encourages youth who had previously been excluded from sports activities to begin playing with peers who face similar barriers to accessing sport.

“I started playing for about 15 to 20 minutes a day with others, but not just me, other young people with disabilities too. We are included in different types of sport trainings set by the Sport Coordinator.

“They all know and actively participate in their spare time, particularly those who are members of the Youth Association,” he continues.

In 18 months Taye believes his opportunities and ambitions have changed. “It is my dream to be one of the elites,” he says. As the manager of the local Youth Association Centre, Taye knows that his position to access and participate in sport is not the same for others in Ethiopia, but the development of the programme will hopefully ensure that more children and young people with disabilities will have the opportunity to be free.   

The Youth Association Centre is a community space for young people in Scimbit and one of the first communities to run the Sport for Inclusive Development programme. The programme aims to work in nine communities in Bahir Dar to deliver safe and inclusive activities including football, athletics, volleyball, basketball, darts and Paralympic sports to a further 2,5000 young people, half of which have disabilities. On a policy level, the programmes aims to make three Government Ministries recognise the contribution that sport can make towards addressing issues faced by young people with disabilities and commit to raising community awareness and education through campaigning at community events, in areas such as road safety, HIV/AIDS awareness and sanitation by March 2016.

This programme is generously supported by Comic Relief.