A player shoots a basket at a basketball court in Juba, South Sudan, Nov. 25, 2019. Some were victims of land mines, others of gunshot wounds and some are survivors of polio. All of them are amputees, some of them double amputees. Now the team has high hopes of making it to the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games, which runs from Aug. 25 to Sept. 6, and leaves a lasting mark on the global stage. The team, which is camping in Juba, told Xinhua it hopes to use sports to end the stigma of disability and offer the players a chance to integrate with society and live a normal life. South Sudan has over 400,000 people disabled from civil war or by polio. (Xinhua/Wang Teng)
by John Kwoba, Yang Zhen and Julius Gale
JUBA, Dec. 2 (Xinhua) -- From the dusty roads leading to the Juba stadium, Kim Bany rides his wheelchair wondering what it could have been like had he not lost his ability to walk.
He wanted to be a basketball player, but now he lives his dream as a coach to teach young disabled players how to play basketball, the only way he feels he can give back to the society.
Bany, together with a group of players, has found strength in basketball and wants to empower other people with disabilities in South Sudan.
His love for the sport was not inherent but was born while he had fled war-torn South Sudan to northwest Kenya's Kakuma refugee camp back in 1998.
"At the refugee camp, we felt that we could do something about sport. So we came together with other nationalities from different countries in the refugee camp -- Ugandans, Rwandans, Ethiopian, Burundians and Somali refugees," Bany told Xinhua in Juba.
"We lived together in the refugee camp and we identified ourselves as people with disability and we felt that we need to also engage in sports activities. We started training and we were facilitated by UN agencies, ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) was one of them and they facilitated the training."
Bany, like many young people, feels that there is a moment when most people's lives could have followed a very different path. However, life and civil wars in South Sudan have forced many a player to end their professional careers even before it had even begun.
Nearly all the wheelchair basketball players, now sweating profusely in the heat of the fierce Juba sun, played a part in that war.
Some were victims of land mines, others of gunshot wounds and some are survivors of polio. All of them are amputees, some of them double amputees.
But their spirit has not been dulled either by the bloody history of their country or by their own personal tragedies.
"When South Sudan got independent, after the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement in 2005, some of us came to South Sudan. In the run-up to the independence of South Sudan, declared on July 9, 2011, we officially became one of the national associations and national teams in South Sudan under the wheelchair basketball. We organize sport for people with disabilities in order to promote the social participation of persons with disability and also to advocate for the rights of the people with disability," he added.
Today, Bany is the chairperson of South Sudan Wheelchair Basketball Association. He may have lost his leg in a civil war, but has found strength in basketball and wants to empower other people with disabilities.
"We thought it was a great idea that will enable us to forge a common identity as people with disability and also create a strong unity among ourselves in order to create an environment for our contribution towards nation-building," said Bany.
Now the team has high hopes of making it to the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games, which runs from Aug. 25 to Sept. 6, and leaves a lasting mark on the global stage.
The team, which is camping in Juba, told Xinhua it hopes to use sports to end the stigma of disability and offer the players a chance to integrate with society and live a normal life. South Sudan has over 400,000 people disabled from civil war or by polio.
Malat Lueth Wei, a Sudanese American, who together with American wheelchair basketball coach Jess Markt, have been visiting the team in Juba to inspire and train the players, hopes the country can produce a strong basketball team for the Paralympics.
"Everything that I dreamt about has happened. As a child, somebody threw a ball at me and I kicked it with my hand and from there I felt I can do it. My hands are as strong as any able-bodied person's leg. That is how my involvement in the sport started. Sometime we could play for hours and hours," Wei told Xinhua in Juba.
Wei, who was born in Boma, now South Sudan, saw his village attacked and he together with other survivors were moved to another camp.
It is from there that he got his visa to America. He fled war-torn southern Sudan and was eventually resettled with his mother and four siblings in Houston, Texas in the United States.
"I was 12 years old when I went to America. The life in the camp was rough, most of us didn't have wheelchairs and we kept on doing the best with what we had and hope for the best.
"I started in the refugee camp with able-bodied people. I used to play soccer with my hands and when I went to America, another sport was introduced to my life and that was basketball... So I found wheelchair basketball and from there I had a dream to come back to South Sudan to do training," Wei said.
Now together with American wheelchair basketball coach Jess Markt, they are training the South Sudan team in Juba hopeful it will make the Paralympics Games.
He now serves as the ICRC's Diversity, Inclusion and Sports Advisor and has set up a program that incorporates wheelchair basketball into physical rehabilitation for people living with disabilities in 19 countries, including Afghanistan, Ethiopia and India.
Remember Ngbangbaki Jokino, a Field Officer with ICRC South Sudan, said they have supported the players with jerseys, transport reimbursement, sports wheelchair and balls since 2015.
Through sport, disabled players of different groups and tribes in the country can be connected. "When we finish our training we join together and celebrate together as a team to build togetherness shouting Woieee, which means Strong," said Mickey Maragani, the team coach.