Patience Bamelikuu, 26, from Ghana, had never played the Paralympic sport of goalball before her International Service ICS placement. What she didn’t realise was how much the sport would change her attitudes towards disability. She’s now using her skills at tackling stigma – and playing goalball – to change her community’s attitudes.
Where I live, in a place called Lawra, in north west Ghana, the trauma visually impaired people go through is immense. I thought being able to come back with practical experience of working with people with visual impairments could really help me make a difference at home.
I moved to Sandema to join International Service ICS’s REACT project. We were a mixed team of 12 volunteers – UK and Ghanaian, visually impaired and sighted. We spent 10 weeks trying to challenge stigma around disability in the north of the country.
We were working with visually impaired members of the community, helping them speak out to their families and their communities – groups by which they’re often stigmatised. We were trying change the perception that the visually impaired should be restricted to a life indoors.
In our day-to-day work we were hosting discussions on the radio about disability, going into churches and schools to speak about visual impairments – and also teaching communities the Paralympic sport of goalball: a game that helps break down the barriers between the disabled and non-disabled. Showing us how to play the game was British Paralympian Georgie Bullen.
ICS was my first time playing goalball, but I’ve discovered I’m a very good player! Learning how the game works during our training really inspired me to focus and learn. The ball contains a bell, and as everyone wears eye masks, you have to listen carefully for the sound of the bell to defend your goal. At first it was scary – you lose one of your senses – but by the end I loved it.
Ghana’s first goalball team was in Tamale, just a few hours away. The game is starting to become well-known, and at the end of our placement, we played the national team in a big tournament – and actually beat them! I was so excited because we thought they were the best players on earth. I’ve realised that whatever the national team can do we can do it better.
I’ve been living with a UK volunteer called Lucy. Although she has a visual impairment, there weren’t challenges in our relationship. We would do everything together. But if I wasn’t patient I wouldn’t be able to help. Through REACT I learnt how to support people with visual impairments. It’s made me better able to work with people with disabilities in future.
I hope that disabled people in my country can be raised higher. They should be able to achieve as much as they want. The sky is not their limit.