Curtis Palmer heads to Bangladesh……
The allure of introducing wheelchair rugby to a nation that has never played the sport before was too much for me to pass up.
With the blessing of my family, I was off to explore uncharted frontiers. Well, in my mind, Bangladesh is one of those exotic places I had never entertained the idea of visiting and as a former intrepid traveler I was keen to dip my toes in again.
As with most of these sorts of trips, you don't get to see a whole lot of the country apart from the airport, hotel, and gym and even though our time in Dhaka was fantastic, I always leave these places wanting to explore more.
What the trip lacked in sightseeing was made up through the kindness and generosity of the Bangladeshi people. I've enjoyed the hospitality of many different cultures, but Bangladesh was another level.
Our four-day IWRF clinic was expertly organised with the help of Disability Sport Australia (DSA), Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP), and Pappu Modak along with the Bangladesh Rugby Football Union (RFU).
We were introduced to 10 players who all resided at or within the vicinity of CRP, a 2 hour, arduous drive away, which apparently is the largest rehab centre in the Southern Hemisphere with over 100 beds. Luckily for us, all the participants had sports chairs that would enable us to play some decent contact rugby.
Dhaka is quite a shock to the system. Traffic is horrendous, people are everywhere, but the smells and the vibe of the place are rather infectious. I remember on day three sitting there watching what was going on and thinking to myself, wow is this really happening right now. It gave me the sense of feeling alive and incredibly grateful.
I've had a few postings to developing countries over the years, and it always inspires me to see how sport can change lives. It's a magic tool to use to help people break down not only personal barriers, but many stereotypes associated with using a wheelchair.
While in Bangladesh I experienced people wanting to help me at every stage, from transferring into the car to wheeling down a ramp. There was always someone there to help if I needed it or even if I didn't need it. We even managed to attract a crowd who would stop in their tracks and stare while we loaded the transport.
What rugby does is it smashes the notions that because you use a wheelchair, you can't do much for yourself. I love that.
I believe that expectations for people living with a disability in Bangladesh are low so introducing something like rugby sets the scene for PwD's to show their communities some of the things they are capable of. Rugby gives the local guys and girls the chance to push their own chair, and explore their potential.
These are just fancy words to explain that rugby gives people the chance to have fun and do stuff that is not expected of them. I find this rather empowering and the proof of this is the smiles on faces when collisions occur, through the steely expressions of concentration and effort the participants put into the games we played and the jubilation the winners have after a well-fought battle.
The players we worked with didn't have $10,000 wheelchairs, straps, gloves, compression gear, tape, glasses, ice vests, rollers, or a spare wheel. They had multi-sport wheelchairs that were donated from Motivation. Their everyday wheelchairs cost 180 Pounds to make. They traveled two hours on a non-air-conditioned bus to get there and slept in a sports hall. The Government see them as unfit to drive and won't give them a license. They live in a polluted, overcrowded, particularly inaccessible city. But hey, none of this mattered when you see how happy these guys were to be playing.
Watch out wheelchair rugby world, the Bangladesh team can now play rugby.
Follow Curtis's other adventures on his blog at www.curtispalmerpt.com