Twelve Haitian youth with varying disabilities are to arrive in Atlanta the evening of May 24 for a BlazaSports America cultural and sports exchange program supported by SportsUnited of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
The eight boys and four girls aged 11 to 18 years old will be accompanied by six supervisors who already have undergone a BlazeSports leadership-training program funded by the United States Agency for International Development and the United Nations Office of Sport for Development and Peace.
Atlanta-based BlazeSports America, which was formed in 1993 to serve as a permanent legacy of the 1996 Summer Paralympic Games, has been working in Haiti under the program since October 2010.
Stuart Sharp, BlazeSports’ director of international sport development, said that the program aims to improve the quality of life for the young participants with disabilities. These positive changes take place not only by providing the youth with an opportunity to develop athletic skills, but by changing the negative images that many Haitians have of people with disabilities.
“People with disabilities are often considered worthless to society in Haiti. We’re using sport to show that they can be active participants in society,” he told Global Atlanta.
“All of our activities are geared to encourage inclusion and the promotion of self confidence. Sport is a common language, and we focus on an individual’s ability not their disability.”
The group will be in Atlanta May 24-27 during which time they are scheduled to visit Kennesaw State University, where they will receive a campus tour and leadership training. They also will see a game at the Philips Arena of the Atlanta Dream, the women’s professional basketball team, and meet with team members after the game.
Other activities in Atlanta are to include a visit to Stone Mountain Park and a tour of the Georgia Aquarium where they will see a dolphin show.
Mr. Sharp said that the majority of the youth come from the tent camps in the Sohamo community of Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, which was devastated by an earthquake in January 2010.
“Just to see the water coming out of the tap in their hotel bathrooms will be amazing to them,” he added after describing their living conditions in the camps where they have had to put layers of rocks under their thin mattresses in the makeshift tents to prevent them from getting wet when it rains.
On May 27 they are to leave Atlanta for Warm Springs where they will stay at the fully accessible Camp Dream at the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation and be joined by 50 other young campers and staff leaders with and without disabilities from the U.S.
The Haitians will benefit by being exposed to many Americans who have disabilities but nevertheless accomplish great things not only in sports but in their personal lives as well despite their disabilities, Mr. Sharp said.
However, he also said that the Americans in turn should benefit from being exposed to the Haitians living in such extremely difficult conditions and come to realize the benefits of living here.
The Haitians are to return to Haiti on June 2 as part of the ongoing program where they will continue to receive training there.