Botswana’s Young Change-Maker at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Nanjing 2014, Mothusi John Ramaabya, is now inspiring disabled youngsters in Africa with his “I can” initiative, under the umbrella of the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s Young Change-Makers+ (YCM+) Programme. This pioneering social entrepreneurship through sport initiative is supported by Olympic Worldwide Partner Panasonic.
How were you chosen to represent Botswana as a YCM at the 2014 YOG?
“The Botswanan National Olympic Committee (NOC) made a call for submissions from young people who were actively involved in sports, cultural development and education to submit their profiles. Despite the fact that I was not playing sports, I was an active sports volunteer and had won a national award called Vision 2016 in recognition of my efforts to promote education in Botswana. I had also been involved with the cultural development department of the University of Botswana. Within three hours of learning about the NOC’s invitation, I submitted my profile, and two weeks later I was shortlisted for an interview. A week later I learned I had been selected.”
What was your role with the Botswana team in Nanjing?
“I was the proxy Chef de Mission in Nanjing, which gave me responsibility for the entire team. However, my primary role was to ensure that the team took part in all the ‘Learn & Share’ activities which were on offer. I prepared a ‘Learn & Share’ schedule, which was based on the athletes' competition schedule; and every single day I accompanied the athletes to various venues and ensured that they had fun, but also learned from the activities. I also coordinated a school twinning programme between Gabane Junior Secondary School in the district of Kweneng and a school in Nanjing. One day, the entire Botswana team and our NOC President went to visit the school.”
What is your favourite memory of the YOG experience?
“I have many good memories, but what really stood out was when we performed a dragon dance during the athletes’ Welcome Session at the Youth Olympic Village. I remember all the YCMs did the dance on stage, and I overcame my fear of dancing in public and managed a few moves.”
Tell us about your IOC and Panasonic-funded YCM+ initiative to work with disabled youngsters in Botswana.
“The project is called ‘I can’. It exists to encourage people living with special needs and disability and spread the message that it is possible to be anything that you want in life, regardless of whatever challenges they face and that they should not let it affect their future. I started in March this year, and the first phase of implementation was completed in April.”
What inspired you to launch this project?
“I have always felt that there is a need to promote participation and inclusion of people living with special needs in sport, as many sporting activities still do not make any specific provision for them.”
How are you delivering your important message?
“The first phase was held at the University of Botswana and featured races and activities for visually impaired and handicapped young people aged between 17 and 23 who were studying at the university. The event also had ‘Learn & Share’ areas based on the activities which I had experienced in Nanjing. The second phase of the project was a week-long festival in July this year celebrating Olympic sports for handicapped and learning impaired youngsters, as well as children with Down’s Syndrome. A total of 342 children aged between 6 and 21 attended the festival.”
How did Panasonic’s support for the YCM+ Programme enhance your project?
“I was really excited about Panasonic’s involvement because the sponsorship provided my initiative with an opportunity to capture some very special moments on camera. Panasonic helped me to create everlasting memories which in turn can be used to motivate other potential athletes with special needs across the world and boost their esteem and confidence.”
What are your goals for the project?
“I want to run the project on a daily basis, travel around the country, Africa and then the whole world, promoting participation and inclusion of marginalised communities in sport.”
What does the future hold for you?
“From August this year I will be focused on an Athlete Career Development Programme in Botswana, which is aimed at first at marginalised athletes in rural areas, before proceeding to the country’s towns and cities. I will also continue with my YCM+ initiatives. Further ahead, I hope to work full-time in an active sports environment anywhere in the world, because it is this kind of role which gives me the greatest contentment in life.”