Today we had our first site visit to the Khatai School #27. The P.E. teacher here is Emil, he came to the U.S. last October to learn more about inclusion and sports for people with disabilities. Emil works in a school with 1,500 kids and has 30 kids per class, none of these children have a documented disability. The vast majority of people living with disabilities in Azerbaijan are home schooled. Emil also runs an after school P.E. program and he decided that he wanted to make it an inclusive program. After lots of meetings with administration, teachers, parents, students, and the paralympic committee he has started an innovative program. He trains “young leaders,” or the students in his school to be coaches to the 3 individuals in the group with various disabilities. They are learning how to play bocce and one day have the hopes of being in the Paralympics. Today I met a 3 very dynamic athletes with great stories, they are not however, school aged children. I played Bocce, with Fariz, Aygun, Xagani, and 3 of their young leaders. Fariz is 26 years old, in the process of writing a detective novel and thinking about higher education. Aygun is 28 years old and sells her home made arts and crafts for a living, she especially loves to knit. Xagani is 27 years old and works at the local (and very american) mall as a custodian. It was great fun getting to know the athletes and playing alongside them. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder where all the school aged people with disabilities were? In my discussions with Emil it became apparent that more money and some form of transportation would be needed to further the project. I admired how a lack of distinction was seen between the young leaders and their friends with challenges, they all got lost in the spirit of the game. There is a good model here that will continue to break down barriers and facilitate changes in the Kahati School and surrounding area as the word spreads. I was impressed to see a writer, an artist, and a custodian being able to excitedly see themselves as athletes and possibly in the paralympic games someday soon.
We moved from the school where all the changes are being put into action to a meeting with members of the Paralympic Comittee and Sport for Development. S4D is the non-profit that is partnered with ITD and is working to implement changes in the world of sports for all children with a focus on inclusion for those living with disabilities. Both groups are using the “inspirational power of sport and physical education” to implement a societal shift in thinking. Changes are being put into place on a grassroots level as well as on a much higher political levels. The combination of these 2 have great potential to lead to a more understanding and inclusive world for Azerbajani’s living with and without disabilities.
Today was a wonderfully informative and eye opening day, I expect many more to come. Changes will come in small but extremely important doses!
P.S. Here is some insight into the accessible ramps in Baku!