KATHMANDU, March 29:Shankar Shah, who is suffering from cerebral palsy, was eagerly waiting for a week to participate in the Sankalpa National-level Para Olympics -- which kicked off on Saturday -- because such tournaments hardly come their way.
The 21-year-old can barely speak or walk on his own because of his illness but was quite enthralled by the prospect of his first ever participation in a national-level competition, says Bimal Lal Shrestha, chief executive officer of Self-help Group for Cerebral Palsy (SGCP), Dhapakhel, where Shah is taking shelter.
“He cannot win any competition but that doesn´t mean he should be left out. It´s just about participation and he is really excited about it,” Shrestha told Republica ahead of Shah´s wheelchair race on Saturday morning.
And Shah did not let down the theme of the two-day event, Sankalpa, which means determination, as he made his way to the finish-line in a gritty display of his will power long after the others had crossed it during the 100 meters wheelchair race held at the St Xavier´s School, Jawalakhel.
“He cannot speak except for a few words. But he is very alert. He can understand everything,” said Shrestha, whose organization is looking after 1000 people, suffering from cerebral palsy, all over Nepal.
Like Shah, Bir Bahadur Ghalan was also participating for the first time in such a tournament.
“Let me win; but if I fail, do not discourage my effort,” said the 20-year-old from Makwanpur, while taking oath on behalf of all the participants of the tournament which is being organized by St Xavier´s Social Service Center in collaboration with Liliane Foundation, a Netherlands-based welfare organization.
Ghalan, who is studying Bachelor´s Degree in Rural Development at Patan Campus, has been living a crippled life because of polio and his maiden participation in a sporting event comes just two days after the World Health Organization declared Nepal free from polio.
“I am feeling really happy to hear the eradication of polio in Nepal because no one else will have to suffer like me now onwards,” he said.
Although it is too late to change Ghalan´s destiny, it might not be late to change the perception of the society that differently-abled people cannot do anything, says Ganesh Parajuli, games coordinator of the tournament.
“If given a chance, disabled people can also do something. All they lack is opportunity,” he said.
Fr Alex Philip, representative of the Liliane Foundation which supports more than 80,000 disabled people worldwide, shared similar views.
Addressing the participants, he said, “Disability cannot be the barrier. It is for you to change the minds of people. Only you need the will power to tell the world that you are not less than anyone else.”
“This is a platform for the disabled to showcase their talent. Such opportunities are very rare because people hardly organize games for the disabled,” said Prizma Ghimire, a volunteer for the sports event.
“Right now, sport is fast catching up in our society as we have seen with cricket and other popular games. But, why only for the abled ones? Why not for the disabled?”
Unlike other tournaments, the organizers have decided to award prizes to all the participants.
“This is not a competition. This is participation. All are winners for us,” said Ramsharan Poudel, coordinator of the tournament.
According to Poudel, altogether 195 physically and mentally challenged athletes from 14 different organizations throughout the country are participation in the tournament in four different age group categories - 6-11 years, 12-15 yrs, 16-20 yrs and above 20 yrs.
The tournament features competitions in track and field events, including shot put, wheelchair race, sprint and fun events like bun biting and water filling among others.
The organizers say this concept was in the making for the last two years but it materialized only now. They are planning to make it bigger through more participation in the years to come.
To sum up, chief guest SSP Ramesh Kharel said, “Games can unite people and this is an opportunity for us to bring the disabled people into the mainstream of the society.”