Our final day was spent in the Ugandan capital Kampala. First thing on the agenda was a panel discussion and a press conference. The discussion was lively and it started with speeches. Lynne began with a powerful speech talking about the connection between poverty and disability and how the link needed to be broken. The Ugandan state Minister for the elderly and disabled Sulaiman Madada said the government was committed to improving the welfare of people with disabilities. The debate started to heat up when the charismatic Martin Babu, deputy executive director of the National union of disabled persons of Uganda, came to the lectern. He challenged the Ugandan minister to turn his words and disability laws into actions. I could feel Martin Babu's frustrations, when you have a disability you get used to hearing a lot of positive statements about how this bill or that law will be used to make life easier for you if you have an impairment. However the reality is often very different and you could see it in the eyes of this wily campaigner. He was tired of words and wanted to see real changes to the lives of disabled Ugandans. It was encouraging to see a disability campaigner being given the chance to directly ask a government minister some tough questions and try to get some accountability.
Uganda has never won a medal at the Paralympic games. Last year they sent Christine Akullo a blind sprinter from St Francis school to the 2012 games, unfortunately she was unable to compete after suffering from a bout of malaria. This was a real shame because I feel that the power of sport has an important part to play in changing perceptions of disability in Africa. If Christine had managed to run she would have been seen on TV representing her country by millions of Ugandans. Disability goes out the window when your representing your country, and if she had won a medal she would've inspired and changed the views (maybe just a little) of a whole generation.
The Ugandan wheelchair basketball team is still a long way off competing at a Paralympics. With about 6 hours left in my trip I got to meet some of the players. They were scrimmaging on an outdoor court at a university campus in sweltering heat; it must have been close to 30 degrees and they were working hard, pushing up and down on an uneven court with potholes everywhere. They had old beat up chairs – all second hand probably donated by paralympians. One of the players got his wheels jammed in a pothole, he flew out of his chair onto the floor and landed in an awkward looking heap of arms and paralysed legs on the floor. Getting knocked out of your chair happens all the time even at the highest level. The game is fast and furious and the players don't mess about, I once folded my wheel in half after being slammed into a wall whilst on a fast break in a training session. When the Ugandan player fell out of his chair I saw some of the able-bodied crowd who had probably never seen disability sport before gasp in shock. For one woman in the crowd this was too much, distressed she ran from her viewing position with both hands on her face shaking her head.
This is why sport is so good for educating people about disability. I doubt if any of those students had seen anyone fall out of a wheelchair before, the player tipped his sports chair back onto its wheels and using his powerful arms dragged himself back onto his chair. His teammates didn't bat an eyelid, there were a few shouts of foul to the referee and then they got back to the game. I called the players over and introduced myself. I don't know what they initially thought of me, but it wasn't until I told them I was a Paralympian, and I had won Paralympic European and world championship medals that their eyes lit up. I could see they were impressed; we gave them GB shirts split into teams and played a physical but fun game of basketball.
Lynne Featherstone and the British high-commissioner to Uganda, Alison Blackburne, as well as some other Ugandan dignitaries watched the game. All of these dignitaries and media attracted a large crowd. It was a cool moment for Ugandan wheelchair basketball. These guys were getting a little taste of what the future could hold for them and they loved it. After the game we had a Q+A, the guys asked about the Paralympics, my training regime and also wheelchairs. One of the players asked if they could come to the UK and train with some of our players. I think it's a great idea. I'm going to speak with Charlie Bethal CEO of Great Britain wheelchair basketball, about organising training camps both in the UK and different countries in Africa. I think it's in the interest of everyone involved in the Paralympic movement that our sport continues to grow all over the world.
I spent three incredibly thought-provoking days in Uganda, and I'm very grateful to Lynne Featherstone for inviting me on the trip. It's made me realise how much important work needs to be done when it comes to disability rights. I've been able to turn my dreams into reality, I can't imagine living in place where your chances of succeeding are virtually impossible because you're disabled. Unfortunately this is the reality for millions of people. I hope that by including disability rights in the new set of UN Millennium Goals we can begin to create a level playing field for people with disabilities all over the world.