Building relationship

Published On: August 18, 2018 01:05 AM NPT By: Simone Galimberti

Quest for social inclusion is about creating conditions that allow those at the margins to be able to claim their sense of belongingness

It has been almost two months since the best wheelchair basketball athletes competed in the third event of the Turkish Airlines ENGAGE Empowering League, the biggest adaptive sport event in Nepal. It was a great event of athleticism and sportsmanship by women and men of different age living with disabilities. Built around the slogan “Fair Game for Nepal: Make Disability Rights Real,” the initiative saw over hundred athletes from all over the country participating in a great festivals who brought together people from all the walks of life—abled and disabled alike.

Uniting people is probably one of the most important goals of any initiative aimed at establishing a more equal society. Any other initiative, be gender-oriented or focused on citizens belonging to groups historically discriminated like dalits, should be focused on creating new bridges among citizens. 

Yet the exercise of building relationships takes time: coming to watch a wheelchair basketball game or a blind cricket game is just a first step, a very important one, to help people turn around old misconceptions about a particular group of citizens, but is not enough. What else can be done to keep the momentum and create more opportunities of bonding between vulnerable and more privileged groups? 

Serving the disadvantaged
How can we allow disadvantaged youths to get more opportunities to connect and establish meaningful relationships with peers or any other citizens not belonging to the group whom they primarily identify themselves with? Identities are complex: a youth with disabilities might end up, first and foremost, thinking of herself primarily as a person with disabilities because, with all the probabilities, a girl will develop her understanding of the self exclusively around the domain of disabilities. 

As a result, all her connections will be built around the concept of disability. The same could be applied to a youth belonging to dalit or any other disadvantaged communities. How can such vulnerable persons also forge new dimensions or layers that will build on their self-constructed identity? How can a youth with disabilities continue to be proud member of her support group, all composed by peers with disabilities, that has been providing indispensible help throughout difficult moment of her life, while at the same time, also be able to think of herself beyond the boundaries of such group, forging new relationships with other diverse members of the society?

How can such a youth strengthen her personal agency, enriching and expanding her understanding?  The quest for social inclusion is about creating the conditions that allow those at the margins to be able to claim their sense of belongingness to their wider society and local communities. 

The league and many other initiatives being undertaken in the country have shown that sports can be an incredible vehicle to establish the first links between persons living, otherwise, in silos, each with their exclusionary sense of identity and belonging and not communicating with each other. Yet while it can kick start a dynamic process of rethinking old assumptions, laying the foundations for a new way we see and perceive people in the society, in the long run, we need also complementary approaches. Sport alone won’t be enough. 

So what else could be done to challenge the status quo and create a level playing field? What is needed to build a more equal society? We need strong legislations that are applied to fill the opportunity gap experienced by disadvantaged and vulnerable citizens. For example, Disable People Rights Act is coming into effect. Ensuring its fullest and widest implementation at all levels will be paramount.

We need equity based measures that can help a disadvantaged youth to stand up and have a fair chance to compete with others. We also need the same youth benefiting from such actions to be able to express her potential and make the best possible efforts to emerge.

Be a mentor 
Forging new relationships can help enlarge a person’s identity and sense of belonging. Imagine if we could have a coalition of businesswomen and businessmen coming together with a national initiative not focused on donations or any other type of financial support for disadvantaged youth but rather aiming at supporting them through mentoring. Being a mentor means providing support in the forms of active listening and advices, guiding someone else along a decision making process that could change the mentee’s life for better. 

A mentor could not only offer personal insights, but actually, acting as a personal coach, can ask powerful and provoking questions that can help a youth think and reflect on the course of her life. Too often I hear young people taking big decisions in a rush and without deeply thinking about the consequences of their actions.  At the end of the day, change in a life of a vulnerable youth will happen when she will be able to take the right decisions in life. While supportive measures from the top are essential, it is her personal responsibility to find ways to change the course of her life. 

Being able to be guided or simply be able to expand a view of the world could make the difference. There is a huge potential for managers and executives to give a bit of their time for a good cause. Imagine the positive spillovers from such powerful conversations for a vulnerable youth living at the margins of the society.  

We will come back soon on this idea, but for now, one essential clarification: It won’t be only the disadvantaged youth benefiting from such new relationship. 

The author is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE, an NGO partnering with youths living with disabilities


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