Rio Paralympics: podcast — The rise of the Paralympics in Africa

14 September 2016

Our external communications officer Barney Cullum is in Rio covering the Paralympics. He recently recorded a podcast covering the rise of the Paralympics in Africa, including an interview with Henry Kirwa, bronze medallist in Rio in the 1,500 metres for blind athletes, and a former UN ‘Kenyan of the Year’.

Listen to the podcast below, or you can read a transcript of what's discussed.

Photo by Sheep"R"Us/by-nc-nd


African countries generally send relatively small numbers of athletes to the Paralympic Games. For many of the teams, this is for financial reasons.

However, there is no shortage of talent on the continent. 

In Rio, in the men’s 1,500 metres event for blind athletes, all three of the medallists were from Africa.

Even more remarkably, all three recorded a faster time in the race than that recorded by the winner of the Olympic Games 1,500 metres earlier this year.

Clearly, blindness in no obstacle to athletics success.

After the race, I spoke to the bronze medallist, Kenya’s Henry Kirwa.

‘I’m from Nandi, the home of champions, ha, ha! I think they will be very happy back home. They’ll be proud because to get a medal is not easy.

‘This competition is worldwide. How many people can expect to get a medal?’

Henry has competed in several Paralympic Games and says the profile is rising in Kenya with each edition, and with that, so is financial backing.

‘The Paralympic Games is getting popular in Kenya.

‘We thank the government for providing facilities and the financial support to come here.’

Such support is not always provided in East Africa. 

The silver medallist in the 1,500 metres, Ethiopia’s Tamiru Demisse, told me his association are not even supplied with funds for running shoes for their Paralympians to train in. They have to practise bare foot, and he wants to represent either the US or Canada in the future. 

Ethiopia is some way behind Kenya in its approach to disability however. Henry tells me the Paralympic Games have helped change perceptions in his country.

‘We are fighting poverty, empowering people with disabilities. As you know, disability is not inability. We are a country that is getting somewhere now.’

Henry was appointed the title of Kenyan of the Year by the United Nations in 2009, and with that came the opportunity to play a role in providing school places to disabled children. Something he missed out on when he was younger.

Leonard Cheshire runs education programmes in Kenya, supporting disabled children to go to school. In Ethiopia, there are Cheshire Homes, providing support to disabled people including the blind. Many blind people on the horn of Africa often end up begging in the region’s big cities after being excluded from receiving an education.

To find out more disability in Africa, and all Leonard Cheshire’s overseas work, visit the international section of the Leonard Cheshire website.

Barney is working at the Paralympic Games as a freelance journalist for the Independent, Vice, PosAbility and other outlets.

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