November 2018

Sport beyond barriers

By: Paolo Scarrone
Projects Abroad Volunteer

As sport is growing larger in Bolivia, the country is widely investing in making it accessible to disabled children. Kids can choose between a large variety of sports and try out as many as they like, followed by the teaching of professors and volunteers. We took part in some of these events in Cochabamba, including the tournaments' finals and the awards ceremonies.

Cochabamba became the host of the latest edition of the Juegos Suramericanos in 2018. This event has strongly contributed in making this a city where sports, pitches, and activities are to be found in every corner. The city is now provided with new and modern facilities such as the aquatic center Centro Acuático G.A.M.C. or the sports arena Coliseo José Villazón, as well as countless of playgrounds where all of the main sports can be played at any time.

Another big boost to the spreading of sports in the country was enacted in May 2016 thanks to Law 804. This law obligates every school and educational center to provide for its students with the opportunity to play one or more sports. This initiative is part of a bigger picture, the so-called educación alternativa. The alternative education follows the steps of the Montessori method, which aims at teaching children to be independent through the expression of their talents. Sport is a relevant part of the method.

In this thriving sport environment began the national games Juegos Plurinacionales for disabled kids project. This tournament took place for the first time in 2011, making this year its 7th edition. "Every year it is getting more and more competitive," says Delia Higueras, a teacher at Heroinas de la Coronilla, a school for mentally disabled children in Cochabamba. "We want the kids to show their potential, their abilities, their talents."

This project finds its goal in being as inclusive as possible, to give the chance for every child to prove himself on a playground. It is possible for the athletes to choose between a wide range of disciplines, including all of the most popular sports worldwide. The more popular ones are futsal, basketball, and volleyball, not to mention all the disciplines linked to athletics. Kids that take part in the tournament are divided following two criterions: the age, from 9 up to 14 years old; then from 15 to 20; and finally from 20 to 25 years old. Most importantly, athletes will compete against each other according to the type of disability they have: intellectual, Down syndrome, physical, visual, and auditory.

As Delia Higueras stated, the competition is expanding every year. This year's edition consisted of 21 schools with over 500 athletes from all over Cochabamba. All the children were provided with transportation, uniforms, drinks, and food for full duration of the tournament. However, the tournament is not just hold on a local level. The competition continues in October, when the athletes that exceled will face other competitors from all over the country. This year's edition will be held in Oruro. As Delia Higueras explains, "Children will be followed in Oruro by three trainers, the director of the alternative education, and two sport technicians."

I had the chance to watch a basketball game played between deaf girls in Cochabamba. It was fascinating to see how the game has developed by it being played by everyone and how it has not affected the beauty and, most importantly, the fun of the game. For example, the referee's whistle had been replaced with red flags. The atmosphere was uncommon; the game was quiet but very physical. It was clear to me that the game was being played on two levels: on one hand, it was easy to see the joy that sport brings to a player, but on the other hand I saw a strong commitment to the completion, every girl was deeply focused on giving her best.

The most intense moment was during the awards ceremony. The finals were held at the sports arena Coliseo Evo Morales, on Wednesday, September the 19th. Medals and cups were ready to be proudly lifted by the winners of the tournament. The Coliseo Evo Morales was filled with children, parents and teachers gathered in a huge celebration. That was the moment I realized the real extent of such a project.

After watching some of these matches I was really intrigued by what positive outcomes such activities could have on special children, especially in the everyday life. I asked this question to Julio Cesar Sanabria, teacher at the Heroinas de la Coronilla school: "We can say that sports, especially in this case of intellectual disabilityies, directly affects their personal independence and also their adaptability to different environments. Through sports they meet and make themselves known to new people." Mr. Sanabria continues underlining another important aspect: "Unfortunately, to most of people, disabled kids are good at nothing, they're useless. Thanks to sporst they can break this thinking, they can prove them wrong." The Juegos Plurinacionales estudiantiles for disabled kids is hitting its target :"People are starting to know them better, to accept them; we're making the word 'inclusion' known to everybody."

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