#UnitedBy motivation and inclusion - Mothusi John Ramaabya
Mothusi John Ramaabya is a Young Change-Maker from Botswana who attended the 2014 Nanjing Youth Olympic Games. He created the “I Can” initiative to help youth with disabilities participate in sport in his country and around the world.
From enthusiastic passion to equal participation
Sport is a passion for Mothusi John Ramaabya – a passion that he feels should be accessible to all. But while studying at the University of Botswana, the Young Change-Maker realised the sporting facilities at the university were inaccessible for students who had visual, auditory, physical or mental disabilities, barring many would-be participants not just from taking place in activities, but also from establishing crucial social connections.
“In Botswana, sports development starts right away, from elementary school,” he says. “And right from the start, there are no provisions for people with disabilities. From the moment that we start engaging our children in sport, that's the moment we must also foster inclusion by providing facilities and resources for the young children living with disabilities. Sporting activities for people living with disabilities are significantly limited, and there is need for us to provide more activities and nurture their talents from a young age. As much as we build state-of-the-art facilities for able-bodied persons, we must also make sure we are thinking about citizens with disabilities.”
For Ramaabya, the issue is about more than providing the infrastructure for people with disabilities to enjoy sport. It’s also a social justice issue that translates into a welcoming community. “Access to sport means that people living with disabilities are given a platform to explore their talents. Providing such a platform brings all of us together regardless of our abilities. Playing sport on a daily basis serves as a reminder that disability is not inability.”
“If we invite people with disabilities into sport, what we are basically saying is that you are welcome in the sporting community,” explains Ramaabya. “This is where you belong. This is where you will be able to showcase your talent at the end of the day.”
The exclusion of people with disabilities – physical or otherwise – is not unique to sport. “What is currently happening in society is that we tend to forget to include provisions for people with disabilities in quite a lot of initiatives. As a person who has a passion for sport, as a person who has a passion for making a difference in society, I was like, ‘I have to play a role in promoting inclusion.’ We cannot achieve equality around the world without collaborative team effort. We need to create facilities and provide programmes that include people living with disabilities in sport.”
For the Botswanan’s Young Change-Makers+ Programme, he wanted to make accessibility to sport for people with disabilities in his country a reality. He named his project “I Can” to ignite motivation and a sense of empowerment. “It gives an individual a sense of saying, ‘You know what, I can do this. Everything is possible regardless of the limitations that I have as an individual. I can do it.’ It's a motivation for the community as a whole to learn that, regardless of the challenges they face, regardless of whatever they go through in life, they can do it once they put their minds to it.”
We may be coming from different communities, different countries, different continents, but at the end of the day, where there's a sporting activity, we all come together as one community.Mothusi John Ramaabya
“The message specifically goes to the young athletes within the sporting community,” he explains. “If you want to be like Usain Bolt, you can be like him if you put your mind to it, if you work hard, if you are determined. The words ‘I Can’ are inspiration. They’re motivation for young people that you can be that elite athlete you always wanted to be.”
Studying inclusivity in sport
To accomplish his goals, the University of Botswana alum worked with his alma mater’s Department of Sports and Recreation, Department of Disabilities and Support Services, and Department of Student Welfare to immense success: “The Department of Sports and Rec and the Department of Student Welfare have realigned their policies and processes to now include students living with disabilities in the programmes,” says Ramaabya. “They have even created a budget to actually get equipment for students living with disabilities. Students with disabilities can take part in sport.”
Access to sport means that people living with disabilities are given a platform to explore their talents.Mothusi John Ramaabya
“It’s now a common practice, and part of the policy, that divisions across the university must cater to students living with disabilities. Because of all that, the students became very motivated. Every single day the students at the university would call me and say, ‘We’re going to the stadium today. Are you going to come through?’ It is a great feeling for them.”
While his work thus far has focused on sporting locations in Botswana, Ramaabya knows the impact will go even further. “Sport is a global language that everyone across the world speaks. By bringing people that are living with disabilities into sport, it means that we are now making them part of the group or village or world community.”
“What I've learned from this whole experience is that inclusion is very, very important,” Ramaabya concludes. “We need to understand that we live in a group or village. It is not about me or the other person. It's about us living together. It's about us having equal opportunities. We may be coming from different communities, different countries, different continents, but at the end of the day, where there's a sporting activity, we all come together as one community. Sport brings us together.”
The Young Change-Makers+ (YCM+) Programme, now in its fifth cycle, invites National Olympic Committees to nominate inspiring young people aged 20-25 to serve as role models for their athletes and ensure they get the most out of their YOG experience. The YCMs are tasked with guiding the athletes through the Athlete Education Programme, encouraging them to be open to cultural exchanges, and introducing them to the Olympic values and all the movement stands for so they too can return home as ambassadors of the rings. YCMs are also invited to apply for seed funding to deliver their own social projects leveraging sport to address an issue in their community. The YCM+ Programme – which is supported by Panasonic – has so far seen 19 YCMs deliver 28 projects across 17 countries, impacting over 9,000 individual participants.