Since January 2017 almost 29,000 refugees have arrived in Greece across the Mediterranean See, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) – and many of them have impairments. Thanks to an Agitos Foundation-funded programme, some of them are getting the chance to experience the power of Para sport, and perhaps eventually compete at a high-performance level.
They are taking part of the “Paralympic Education Development in Refugee Populations,” a project funded by the Agitos Foundation’s Grant Support Programme (GSP) and supported by the UNCHR.
The life-changing work being done in Greece is recognised at No. 10 in the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) Top 50 Moments of 2017.
The project, which began in October 2016, was proposed by the Hellenic Paralympic Committee to create Paralympic awareness and training opportunities for refugees with impairments, both in their country and neighbouring nations. Refugees also have the chance to participate in training camps and compete in local and national competitions.
“We thought it'd be good to submit a proposal to the Agitos Foundation to develop a Para sports programme for refugees with disabilities”, said Vassilis Kalyvas, sports director at the Hellenic Paralympic Committee who leads the GSP project. “The motto of the Agitos Foundation is "Developing Sport. Changing Lives” and we thought this would be the case.”
In September the IPC published the My Refugee Story series, featuring participants of the project.
Wisam, who is 25 years old and has a lower body impairment due to polio, abandoned his home in Mosul, Iraq, after his brother was killed by Islamic State (ISIS). Now he’s passionate about wheelchair fencing. “I take the power [from fencing],” Wisam said. “The power is not just from my body. But the power is here, inner, inside my heart”, he said.
Rajab, aged 22, fled the war in Iraq after losing both his legs in a shell attack, and arrived in Greece looking for a brighter future. Thanks to Para sport he has found one. “Before trying Para sports I was always depressed. I used to sit alone and remember the tragedies from the past,” he said. “Now, the other refugees and me are living our lives through sport.
Rajab’s talent for powerlifting led to him being trained by Greece’s Paralympic champion Pavlos Mamalos. “It is an honour for me to train all these boys and help them become athletes and champions. Powerlifting will make them stronger, more disciplined, experienced and socially worthy,” said Mamalos.
Syrian Najib is just 14 years old and has a spinal cord injury from a shell attack. Encouraged by Vassilis Kalyvas, he is now dedicated to wheelchair racing. In November, Najib was invited by IWAS and the Agitos Foundation to compete in the IWAS World Games 2017, in Portugal, which was his first trip abroad after he and his family had to leave Syria and his first ever flight.
This Sunday 24 December the Agitos Foundation will bring you a video telling the story of Najib’s trip to Portugal.
The countdown of the IPC’s Top 50 Moments continues until 31 December.