Rodgers Kyomukamah dreams of participating in the Paralympics one day. However, his reality tells a different story – that day may never come.
For years now, marginalisation of disabled athletes in Uganda has been eating into the country’s competitive edge. So much that last month, the Uganda National Paralympic Committee (UNPC) petitioned Parliament, vouching for more support for the nation’s disabled athletes.
“The government’s perception towards persons with disability is not good. The funding is inadequate and we depend on our partners just to get by,” says Bumali Mpindi, the president of the committee.
A few days ago, Parliament granted their motion. But with the Commonwealth Games just two months away and preparations for the Ugandan Paralympic front crawling at a snail’s pace – is it a little too late?
The answer lies with an old adage – success is always served to the better prepared, and unfortunately, they are not.
Kyomukamah, 25, disabled athlete, whose speciality is wheel chair basketball and power lifting, has experienced this first hand.
“I am not participating in the Paralympics this year because I’m not classified,” he says.
However, telling his predicament without sourcing out its roots does not give deeper insight. The best way to tell Kyomukamah story and dreams is to go back to the beginning.
At the age of two, while staying with his parents in Rukungiri, Kyomukamah was afflicted by polio and by three, his right leg was crippled.
It was at that time that his father passed on, leaving behind his peasant mother to look after him. Unfortunately, without the father, his mother struggled to sustain Kyomukamah since theirs was a poor family.
“I was sent to Kampala to stay with my brother George who took on my education and day-to-day care,” he narrates.
As he grew into the lanky bearded man he is today, he struggled on clutches at every task taken on, including failing to finish his diploma in Journalism due to lack of tuition.
By then, his brother had told him that he could not afford paying his fees any farther as responsibilities in his docket had overwhelmed him.
Pursuing a passion
Beaten into a corner with nothing to do, he resorted to pursuing his passion for sport, picking on his two favourite disciplines; wheel chair basketball and power lifting.
However, he was soon to discover that even passion in this life carried a cost, and one that he would grapple with to date.
“I do not have money to purchase standard wheel chairs or use the training facilities in town,” he says. “The total cost of a wheel chair is about Shs7m. So we improvised to cover the lack of proper training equipment.
“We had to borrow the wheel chairs from the National Council of Sports. However, they are not standard sports chairs since they are like hospital wheel chairs. They are difficult to use when engaging in the sport,” he explains.
In 2012, he reached out to the Uganda National Paralympics Committee for assistance for his training. Unfortunately, the body was suffering the same capacity woes, barely able to carry its own weight.
With an annual Shs10m funding from government intended for administrative and training costs, the committee that requires about Shs200m to run smoothly has failed to cater for training for its athletes on a countrywide scale – let alone in Kampala.Note that the 2013/14 government budget for Sport is about Shs1b.
“Training has been confined to Kampala. We are currently struggling to reach upcountry places because of limited resources,” he says.
Winning accolades despite challenges
However, despite the bottlenecks, Ugandan paralympians have fared well in international competitions.
A testament to this is the medal haul paralympians have accumulated through competitions.