From June 21 to July 5, five Kyrgyz students with disabilities and one coach traveled to the United States to experience American culture and polish their basketball skills. The Wheelchair Basketball program is part of the Sports Visitor Program, a U.S. Department of State initiative to empower emerging youth leaders, support disability rights and inclusion, and promote people-to-people exchange. This program is part of the U.S. Embassy’s efforts to increase opportunities for people with disabilities in the Kyrgyz Republic, including such events as the February visit of U.S. Speaker Sara Minkara, President of Empowerment Through Integration, on inclusion and entrepreneurship and the 2017 visit of U.S. Paralympian snowboarder Dustin Fleming.
The 2018 participants are all alumni of the Access English Microscholarship Program. The two-year Access program, supported by U.S. Embassy in Bishkek, provides English language training for Kyrgyzstani youth with financial need. This year’s Wheelchair Basketball participants graduated two years ago from an Access program for youth with disabilities that reached 60 high school students from Bishkek and Osh. For many students, this was their first experience with inclusive education and provided a rare opportunity to leave their apartments, made possible by special transportation arranged by the U.S. Embassy.
While in the United States, participants joined students from Jakarta and Bangkok in sports-related training and excursions to experience American culture. In the first week of the program, participants visited Chicago, Illinois, where they saw famous landmarks, had dinner with an American family, engaged in discussions with experts about adaptive sports, and visited organizations that work with youth with disabilities. Next, students learned wheelchair basketball skills and got a taste of American college life at the University of Illinois Wheelchair Summer Sport Camp in Champaign, Illinois.
Through this program, students not only developed their athletic abilities, but also learned more about American culture and forged valuable international connections.