Rwandan athlete, Dominique Bizimana, talks to the ‘The Paralympian’ magazine about the challenges faced by his country’s National Paralympic Committee (NPC) and the progress that has been made in recent years.
Dominique Bizimana was on the Rwandan national sitting volleyball team that participated in London 2012 and is a member of the IPC Development committee. He has seen attitudes change in his country thanks to the work that has been carried out by the NPC.
The first challenge was the attitude toward people with impairments in Rwanda, and simultaneously the lack of self confidence among people with impairments. That in turn affected how the National Paralympic Committee (NPC) of Rwanda could obtain funding. As long as the Ministry of Sports and the public were not interested in para-sports, funding was not given a second look. (Fortunately, that has changed recently.)
Additionally, the Paralympics are generally compared to Olympics in this country. The two are totally different in terms of sponsors and funding. So if there was money set aside for sports in Rwanda, para-sports was not considered.
To overcome those challenges, the NPC focused on developing para-sports where Rwanda had the potential to be competitive, such as goalball and sitting volleyball.
The Rwanda Ministry of Sports had set up criteria of competitive performances, where each National Federation had to make sure it is ranked at least among the top three teams in Africa. NPC Rwanda was ranked second in sitting volleyball and fourth in goalball.
We wanted to take advantage of our standings in those sports. So we worked in partnership with the media to promote the Paralympic Movement in the country by using those facts.
We used funds effectively and efficiently with our partners.
It was important for us to show accountability and credibility toward members and partners to give them confidence in our commitment.
We approached some important international organisations working in the country to improve the life of persons with impairments. Through this approach, we got funding and delivered in partnership with United Nations
Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Laureus, projects such as sport for development in primary schools and special centres (2010), and development of sports and rights for people with impairments in Rwanda (2013). These partnerships raised the capacity of the NPC in managing grants and developing sports.
It also allowed us to succeed in applying to the Agitos Foundation Grant Support Programme (GSP) in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
One of the biggest results was hosting the first ParaVolley Africa Sitting Volleyball Championships in July.
Rwanda’s women’s sitting volleyball team won and will become the first women’s team to represent Africa in the s port at the Paralympic Games.
This accomplishment ties back to what I mentioned earlier: the lack of self confidence among females and society
in general with people with impairments. There was also lack of equipment and funding.
But thanks to long-term planning, commitment and good leadership, we have made strides. In due time, we will continue to learn and progress.