Is the word ‘inclusion’ fit for purpose? In a workshop delivered to Team Up’s Inclusive GymBad team in Papua New Guinea, guest speaker Rachel Māia argued that long term goal of inclusion is to remove that very word from our vocabulary.
The inspirational New Zealand climber shared her story with a team of leaders from Badminton Papua New Guinea, Papua New Guinea Gymnastics Federation, Motivation Australia, Inclusive GymBad, Callan Services, PNG Disability Youth Services and the Papua New Guinea High Commission, in an online conference call.
Starting with her background in sport, Rachel told her journey about a fall from an indoor bouldering competition at the age of 16, which shattered her left foot. The injury required multiple surgeries, resulting in two decades worth of chronic pain and limited mobility. Eventually, in February 2019 she made the bold decision to amputate her leg below the left knee.
Moreover, Rachel balances her career as a Para climber with the struggles of single motherhood to three children, the eldest living with autism and ADHD. Much like the recipients of Inclusive GymBad in Papua New Guinea who live with physical and intellectual disabilities (although Rachel prefers the term “superpowers”), the motivated team joined Rachel virtually to learn how they can improve the messaging and delivery of the program to further reduce the barriers faced by those with a disability.
Inclusive GymBad is the sport for development program in Papua New Guinea, part of the Australian Government’s Team Up program which is a sport for development initiative in the Asia-Pacific region, which aims to action sustainable development goals. Inclusive GymBad combines badminton (through Shuttle Time) and gymnastics, with a particular effort on removing or reducing the barriers experienced by people with a disability, particularly women and girls, to participate equally.
Since the program launched in early 2021, the program has reached out to rural communities across Papua New Guinea and established strong relationships with prominent disability schools, including Callan Services. The initiative is lead by a number of inspirational leaders, including a portion of PNG’s contingent who became the nation’s first representatives at an international badminton tournament last year at the Continental Championships.
Danny Ten, Jerome Bunge and Nellie Ruth Leva are all qualified Shuttle Time leaders and Para badminton competitors. Nellie also went on to qualify for the javelin event at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, where the transferable skills between Para badminton and javelin were highlighted as a beneficial aid to her technique.
A re-occurring theme throughout the call with Rachel was the notion of ‘inclusion vs belonging’ and whether ‘inclusion’ is becoming a redundant idea? The ultimate goal for sports for development programs which aim to remove barriers is to fully understand the landscape in which it operates and pro-actively combatting the barriers in question.
“What does support look like for you?” – was one of the key questions posed by Rachel to be asking yourself and your participants for a bottom-up process which considers various aspects of designing and implementing programs, with the ultimate aim of ensuring people “feel seen, heard and valued”, says Rachel.
Additionally, speaking from lived experience of prejudice, Rachel signaled the importance of using the “loudest possible positive voice”. As disabled athletes, the fear of defeat or inability is amplified, therefore it is important for coaches and leaders in the disability sports sector to ensure they harness the power of positive commentary “You are capable. You can do this. You have superpowers. You know what your body can do. This is what your participants should be hearing”, says Rachel.
This year, Inclusive GymBad has kept up with the demands of the global COVID-19 pandemic as leaders managed to continue delivery within the rules and restrictions imposed by local government to ensure activities could continue. Meanwhile, the team are preparing for a transformational 2022 as they aim to empower more people with disabilities, particularly women and girls to take up leadership roles and deliver in more communities across PNG.
Also joining the call, Papua New Guinea High Commission PNG-Australia Sports Corporation Manager, Kristie Brown, shared her optimism for the initiative which is inspiring the next generation.
“It was a great opportunity to meet the team. I have promised to see more activities in person and cartwheel with the community members”, says Kristie
The joint badminton-gymnastics venture encourages partnerships to thrive, currently celebrating the combined efforts from Badminton Oceania, Badminton Papua New Guinea, Motivation Australia, Oceania Gymnastics Union and Papua New Guinea Gymnastics – proving the power in hearing from even more collaborations to share experiences and build a more prosperous future for disability sport.