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Rwandan Boccia events bowl CP athletes towards Paralympics 2024

Rwanda’s National Intellectual and Cerebral palsy Sport Committee (NICSCO Rwanda) have their eyes on taking a Boccia team to the Paris Paralympics in 2024 following the successes they’ve had creating a local competition.

In this article, NICSCO Rwanda spokesman Jean Paul Sekarema tells how they’ve used Boccia as a sport as well as a tool for social integration to prevent people living with Intellectual and Cerebral Palsy from being left behind in their community.

The journey that has led NICSCO Rwanda on a path leading to Paris 2024 started with the chance for their parent organization (NPC Rwanda) to attend a BISFed (the Boccia International Sports Federation) workshop in 2015.

The BISFed workshop on making Boccia accessible led to the mobilisation of funding and the establishment of a national committee to support CP in Rwandan sports – NICSCO Rwanda.

In 2016, the Boccia championship program was formed and initially featured 19 Rwandan districts and more than 212 children from schools and special centres.

Since 2017, NICSCO Rwanda have been bringing together their top four Boccia teams to compete on World CP Day for the World CP Day Cup.

“We take that opportunity to invite along different stakeholders from the Disability Movement, parents, local leaders, NGOs and media houses for advocacy and awareness purposes,” Jean Paul says.

“We want people to come and experience how those living with CP enjoy sport and leisure. Many families are ashamed to have a child with CP and most of the time they hide their child home.  

“During the event, we also have an awards ceremony where every team receives scholastic materials as motivation to aim higher,” he says

What are the challenges?

Like any non-profit organisation, NICSCO Rwanda are consistently faced with the financial challenges of running their programs.

To combat that, they have involved local leaders and institutions with the Boccia events, including:

  • National Council of People of Disability (NCPD)
  • National Union for Disability Organisation (NUDOR)
  • Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO)

“We try to advocate in every corner of Rwanda in order to raise funds,” says Jean Paul.

“But our other challenge is the mindset of society where family members are still underestimating their children with CP. 

“This is why we will keep pushing until every Rwandan understands the rights of people with disabilities as far as CP is concerned,” he says.

What’s the greatest success so far?

Jean Paul says they are grateful for the milestones they’ve been able to achieve so far and that on reflection, since 2016 when the initiative first began, they’ve achieved quite a lot.

For example, there’s the:

  • annual championship has grown to benefit 327 children with CP in 2019
  • beginning of the journey to registration for NICSCO Rwanda as an NGO
  • two workshops for referees and coaches that were held across the country
  • Boccia Championship will be held for the third consecutive year on World CP Day in 2019.

What’s the plan for World CP Day 2019?

“This year we need to move this event out of Kigali (the Rwandan Capital City) in order to reach rural areas where the community is still far behind in comparison to urban places,” says Jean Paul

So far for 2019, the mobilisation of funds is ongoing, and plans are underway to invite even more high-profile people and involve even more stakeholders than they’ve ever done before.

“Our four best Boccia teams will entertain the audiences,” says Jean Paul.

What about Paris 2024? What are those plans?

Jean Paul outlines a clear plan to get to the Paralympics in Paris in 2024, starting with organising an Eastern African tournament by 2020.

But getting to Paris 2024, NICSCO Rwanda is working on:

  • becoming a member of BISFed
  • training in the appropriate Boccia classification to enable their team to register for the Paralympics
  • funding/acquiring the materials they need (such as balls, accessible wheelchairs, assistive devices, etc.)
  • many training sessions, and much more.

Tips for other developing countries looking to follow in Rwanda’s steps

Jean Paul says his biggest tip is to make sure you involve local authorities in your programs.

“Sometimes they won’t contribute financially, but it is worthwhile to invite them to experience the reality,” he says.

His other tip is to showcase what you’re doing.

“We broadcast our event everywhere we could, including TV, radio and social media,” says Jean Paul.