Ability over disability in Saint Lucia
Saint Lucia based Sacred Sports Foundation (SSF) has long been an advocate for accessible sports for persons with disabilities, who continue to experience stigma, disempowerment, social and economic marginalisation in the region.
SSF is one of the few sports for development registered NGO’s in the Caribbean. Our programmes are typically free to participate in and we ordinarily seek to target the most disadvantaged in communities around Saint Lucia and the Caribbean. We focus on specific SDG’s using sport as a tool for development as well as, physical education and associated life lessons to enhance a range of areas in the communities we serve.
Over the years, SSF has partnered with The Government of Saint Lucia and local stakeholders. International partners have included FIFA Foundation, UEFA Foundation for Children, streetfootballworld, Stoke City Community Trust, Premier League, English Amputee Football Association, Special Olympics, PFA, Laureus Sport for Good, LMA, Peace and Sport, Digicel and most recently the Maria Holder Memorial Trust.
Areas of collaboration have included the inclusion of special school teachers in training programmes, planning and coordination of events directed at promoting physical development and recreation for learners with special needs, and direct interaction with and support of learners with special needs, allowing us to deliver projects that continue to produce long term impact and positive outcomes for all involved.
“This will be the 11th year we have celebrated International Day of Persons with Disabilities” says Nova Alexander, SSF Executive Director. “While physical activity and sport for children with disabilities is not a new concept, its full potential as a powerful low-cost means to foster greater inclusion and well-being for persons with disabilities still has a long way to go.”
The social cost of this exclusion and discrimination is enormous in terms of lost opportunities and poor quality of life for individuals with disabilities and their families. This cost includes lost potential for society given the social, economic, and cultural contributions these individuals might be making under more equitable and inclusive circumstances.
SSF is an internationally accredited Active IQ training centre. “Through a variety of adaptive activities, including physical education, inclusive community rehabilitation and interaction, our actions have led to a positive impact on the lives of children and young people with a disability and those who experience social challenges. We have included measures such as ensuring our coaches, mentors and volunteers conduct adapted physical education training and child safeguarding certification, prior to working with persons with disabilities,” continues Nova.
Positive outcomes of SSF’s programmes
- Improved health because of structured physical activity participation
- Increased inclusion awareness in disability sport programming
- Increased understanding of best coaching practices
- Improved communication and inter-personnel skills of youth
- Increased understanding of child rights, child protection and safeguarding among participants, teachers, coaches and mentors
- Youth-led advocacy encouraging greater diversity, inclusion and encouraging greater participation and access for persons with disabilities has been a major achievement
To be effective, SSF prides itself in providing the best possible facilities and resources; however, facilities availability and use continue to be a challenge requiring constant management.
As a large portion of beneficiaries have physical and/or mental challenges, programme activities are monitored closely to ensure everyone gets a chance to participate. However, given such a wide array of disabilities, SSF believes physiotherapy and psycho-social support would be of significant benefit to a broad range beneficiaries and youth mentors. Adding such services in a suitable environment would be a positive addition and something SSF hopes to add moving forward. Thankfully, flexibility and assistance from local partners has meant minimal disruption to our schedule but longer-term this continues to be a concern.
Some innovative ideas
- Culture of inclusion: Mixing beneficiaries and mentors with disabilities with their non-disabled peers, provides unique opportunities for integration and building social capital. SSF programmes seeks to involve children with and without disabilities, their families and wider community in activities carried out. This approach challenges discrimination and promotes a culture of acceptance and inclusion of people with disabilities in our communities.
- Established position in the community: SSF programmes benefit from past activities carried out over the years. Networks of support to the activities were therefore already established in the local communities to some extent but significantly strengthened.
- Enduring programme: long lasting programmes have enabled the development of strong bonds among beneficiaries, coaches, mentors, teachers, volunteers, and parents/guardians.
- Focused on a shared interest: beneficiaries’ and mentors’ participation is motivated by their interest in healthy lifestyles activity and sport. This has allowed differences between them to become less important and increased their focus on commonalities.
Nova Alexander is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Sacred Sports Foundation.
[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]