Winners not witches: Ghana’s disabled athletes strive to beat stigma

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Story highlights

Charles Narh Teye lost both his legs as an infant. Now, he's a Paralympic body builder

Like other disabled athletes in Ghana, he is investing in the future of Paralympic sports

The Rolling Rockets are a Ghanian team of 'football' players with polio

Their coach hopes the sport will achieve Paralympic status

Accra, Ghana CNN  — 

Ghana isn’t the easiest place for people with disabilities. They are often viewed with suspicion, deemed unlucky, untrustworthy, or without value.

“Unfortunately, we associate disability with all manner of negative influences: with witchcraft, with the devil, with bad karma,” explains Max Vardon, who formerly headed Ghana’s National Council on Persons with Disabilities.

“They get relegated to the sidelines. The schooling they should get, the support from their families they should get, they don’t, so life is very difficult for them,” he adds.

Lately, however, a number of Paralympic athletes are hoping to use sport to change public perceptions.

One of the leading spokesmen for Ghana’s physically challenged is Charles Narh Teye, one of a handful of Ghanaian para-athletes who competed in the London 2012 Paralympics.

Narh Teye had both his legs amputated when he was one-month old. Today, he is a professional body builder who also owns his own gym.

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Turning disability into opportunity
07:18 - Source: CNN

“With the gym, I love it when people see me with my disability training able-bodied people,” says Narh Teye, who is now training himself for the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. He uses his earnings to reinvest in Ghana’s para-sports, an area he admits is under-financed.

“We do not have a qualified para-powerlifting bench here in Ghana, so we make do with the ones that able-bodied people use. Of course, that reduces our input and output.”

A new game?

Another group looking to bring attention to the cause is The Rolling Rockets, Ghana’s skate soccer team made up of polio survivors.

“The sport is appreciated. I would say, in this country, it is admired by so many people,” says Albert Frimpong, the team’s coach.

Skate soccer doesn’t yet have Paralympic status, though it has garnered some attention in the last couple of years. In 2012, the story of the Rolling Rockets inspired a Kickstarter campaign for the documentary Rollaball. Earlier this year, the team was featured in a documentary and advertising campaign by Chevrolet.

Frimpong initially formed the team to help get the men off the street.

“The idea was to get them to stop begging, to improve their lives. I was hoping to use soccer as a way to set up business- and income-generating projects for them,” he recalls.

Since then, his vision has expanded somewhat.

“One of the dreams is to organize an African Cup of Nations, the first ever in the world here in Ghana,” he admits.

“We can get a big FIFA car to bring people here to come and watch, and the world will finally see them exhibiting their talent.”

The next generation

The Accra Rehabilitation Centre is currently one of the few institutions working to provide economic opportunities to the country’s physically challenged. The center is particularly keen to get their members involved in sports, not only for confidence-building, but for the sponsorship opportunities as well.

“We have so many people with disabilities who have competed on a world stage, and because of that, they are being introduced to heads of state,” says Vardon.

“They have acquired a livelihood for themselves and for their families that they did not have before.”

Another novel academy, called Right to Dream, is also hoping to nurture Ghana’s future para-sportsmen. Headed by Raphael Botsyo Nkegbe and his protégé, Maclean Atsu Dzidienyo – both internationally recognized wheelchair racers – the academy aims to educate Ghana’s disabled community, and nurture their talent for sport.

“We work with some very disadvantaged kids in Ghana, and they come from environments where they don’t actually know what opportunities are out there in the world. So when you bring them here, and tell them if you apply yourself you can achieve amazing things in life, they don’t understand,” says Nkegbe.

“Those who are competing are the new generation. They are the people taking over the baton.”

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