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Uniting Nations: Breaking Stigma Through Para Sports and Assistive Technology in Malawi

A white lady in with brown hair and a black cardigan smiling at the camera

Diane Bell

Director of Programmes and Development

An African male in a blue shirt smiling at the camera

Harrison Kamau

Communications and Engagement Executive

Para athletes during a track session in Malawi
Para athletes during a track session in Malawi

Malawi is taking a bold step towards breaking down stigma and promoting the use of assistive technology (AT) for people with disabilities. Through the innovative AT2030 "Para Sport Against Stigma" program, led by Loughborough University London (LUL), in partnership with the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and the University of Malawi, the country is leveraging the power of sports to create a more inclusive and equitable society.

In the vibrant heart of Africa, Malawi is undergoing a transformational journey, not only in the realm of sports but also in societal perceptions and access to assistive technology (AT) for individuals with disabilities. The convergence of innovative initiatives like the Malawi Country Capacity Assessment (CCA) and the groundbreaking Para Sport Against Stigma (PSAS) project is rewriting the narrative of inclusion and empowerment.

A Paradigm Shift: From Assessment to Action

The CCA toolkit, a collaborative effort by WHO, GDI Hub, CHAI, and UCL, has paved the way for a comprehensive understanding of Malawi’s landscape concerning AT. Its implementation has not only facilitated data collection but also ignited a fire for progress in AT access for the disabled community. This assessment laid the groundwork for subsequent endeavors, acting as a catalyst for change rather than just a repository of statistics.

Para Sport Against Stigma (PSAS): Championing Change Through Para Sports

PSAS stands tall as a beacon of hope and progress with a clear mission: to tackle stigma head-on and create a level playing field in the world of Para Sport. The project’s objectives include:

  • Smash Stereotypes.
  • Inspire Inclusion.
  • Change Perspectives.
  • Advocate for Equal Opportunities and to
  • Celebrate abilities instead of focusing on limitations.

In the words of James Chuitsi, President of the Malawi National Paralympic Committee, “Disability is not inability”.

With a multi-faceted approach encompassing education, athlete development, Paralympic broadcasting, and action research (e.g Evidence brief on engaging communities in Para sport in Malawi), this initiative embodies a holistic strategy to dismantle the stigma attached to living with a disability. Partnerships with entities like the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), Malawi Paralympic Committee (MPC), business sector and government have fortified its reach and impact, such that the MPC hosted the first ever Malawi National Paralympic games on 27th July 2023 at the Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe (see Special Report)

From left, Michale Unwin, Anne MacKinnon, Diane Bell in the stadium
From left, Michale Unwin, Anne MacKinnon, Diane Bell

A small delegation from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub), including Anne MacKinnon, Michael Unwin, and Diane Bell, recently travelled to Lilongwe, Malawi, to experience the project first-hand, meet with key stakeholders, participate in some activities and to conduct monitoring and evaluation of the project’s impact, with a focus on the educational theme.

The Malawi Paralympic Committee (MPC) has successfully implemented the I'mPOSSIBLE education package to support inclusive education, including physical education, in almost 200 schools. Additionally, it helps identify potential for the upcoming generation of para-athletes from Malawi. During our visit, we participated in a Knowledge Exchange Forum between teachers involved in the implementation of the I’mPOSSIBLE (localised) toolkit held at the Bingu National Stadium. We also visited the new training facility of the MPC, experienced inclusive sports activities at Lilongwe LEA Primary School and participated in a workshop with I’mPOSSIBLE teachers to capture impactful stories of success emanating from the implementation of the programme.

Jennie, Jessica, Josef, Michael, James, Diane, Anne and Mufunanji at a meeting with I'mPossible during the knowledge Exchange Forum
Jennie, Jessica, Josef, Michael, James, Diane, Anne and Mufunanji at a meeting with I'mPossible during the knowledge Exchange Forum

"Slowly, through this project, the submerged voice of the Malawian children in schools can be heard as they play old games while learning new inclusive ones."

Mufunanji Magalasi, PSAS, University of Malawi.

The resonance of change echoes in the words of those directly impacted. Children engaging in inclusive activities while learning embodies the tangible shift taking place within Malawi's education system. It's not just about playing games; it's about embracing inclusivity as a way of life.

The interdisciplinary approach embraced by PSAS is not just breaking down silos; it's fostering a revolution in perspectives. Jennie Wong from Loughborough University shares, "Within the project, we're exploring diverse methods to leverage Para sports as a platform, shifting deeply rooted local narratives from 'in-ability and uselessness' to respecting diversity and inclusivity."

Realizing Dreams: Empowering Through PSAS

James Chiutsi, representing the Malawi Paralympic Committee (MPC), highlights the transformative impact of PSAS. "PSAS has been a whole package for us, helping the MPC achieve its dreams, from volunteer recruitment and athlete identification to enhancing the MPC capacity."

This isn’t just about sports; it's about empowering institutions and individuals, making dreams a reality where previously they might have seemed unattainable.

Looking ahead, initiatives such as the CCA and PSAS, paints a promising picture for Malawi's future as a leader across Sub-Saharan Africa in using Paralympic sport as a platform for social change. It's a journey that champions inclusivity, empowerment, and accessibility. By leveraging the power of sports and technology, Malawi is breaking barriers, not just on the field but in society's collective mindset, and needs to continue pioneering in this space and advocate for other countries to follow its example in relevant national, African Union, and international forums.

In conclusion, the union of these initiatives underscores the power of collaboration and the potential for transformative change. Malawi stands as a testament to the fact that when communities, organizations, and governments unite, they can truly redefine possibilities for everyone, leaving behind a legacy of inclusivity and progress.