My disability was not an obstacle for me; rather, it's the society that stands in the way. Society is handicapped.
SCENES shines a spotlight on youth around the world who are breaking down barriers and creating change. The character-driven short films will inspire and amaze, as these young change-makers tell their remarkable stories.
In the heart of the Gaza strip, a remarkable group of women in wheelchairs are defying their physical limitations by playing basketball. They are in the process of forming a national wheelchair basketball team.
"My dream is to represent Palestine abroad," says 28-year-old Rabab Nofal, who has been a wheelchair basketball player since 2016. "I hope they form a national team. My dream is to travel abroad and achieve my dreams there," echoes teammate 29-year-old Wesam Aldallo.
'Society is handicapped'
Like Rabab and Wesam, there are plenty of female basketball players with disabilities in Gaza who have taken up this sport. By playing wheelchair basketball, they are overcoming adversity and challenging societal norms.
"Basketball is my favourite game," Rabab tells SCENES. "I enjoy it, as it clears my body from the negative energy. It gives me strength, motivation and determination," Rabab explains.
People with disabilities are often marginalised in Rabab's community, but she has not let society's perception of her impede her progress in life. "My disability was not an obstacle for me; rather, it's the society that stands in the way. Society is handicapped," says Rabab.
Suha Maqat, 28, also plays wheelchair basketball for the Female Knights Sports Club. Her family initially did not support her decision to play basketball.
"My relatives would tell me, "You're disabled, you can't do anything." I challenged them, joined the national team, became a champion, became the basketball league's top scorer, and lived life," she tells Scenes.
Suha didn't have an easy time growing up. People often said hurtful things to her. "The way society looked at me was difficult. When I would go outside, they would humiliate me with words," Suha says. "When I was a little girl, I couldn't understand society's negative view of me or their words. I used to go back home crying, not wanting to go back," recalls Suha.
Suha's life, in many ways, was shaped by the negativity she encountered. Instead of letting insensitive words get her down, she used them as motivation and pushed herself to prove others wrong. "They said, "Who do you think you are to play basketball while being disabled?" Because of that statement, I challenged them," says a strongly determined Suha.
We complete each other
"Sport is the most important thing for a healthy body," says team head coach Akram Abu Sal. He was injured in 1992 amid fighting in the region. He thinks that it's essential for a disabled team to have a coach who is also disabled.
"Only a coach with a disability will be able to understand the player's circumstances," he says. What encourages me the most about coaching this team is that I help them rise, and they help me rise. So, we complete each other," Akram adds.
Not a burden on society
According to a United Nations report, people with disabilities can develop crucial social skills and increase their level of independence through sports. According to the findings, participating in sports can also help disabled people strengthen physically and intellectually, reducing their dependency on others.
"As disabled or injured people, our bodies have spasms, and sport helps the muscles relax completely," coach Akram explains. "Some people are born with disabilities, but they work hard to become champions. When a person with a disability succeeds or makes an accomplishment, one believes they are not a burden on society," he concludes.
A little over a year ago, the Palestinian men's wheelchair basketball team beat the Indian team 49-40 to win the First International Wheelchair Basketball Tournament, which was hosted by India and organised by the humanitarian organisation, The Red Crescent.
The women's team wants to be formally recognised as a national team so they can compete in international games. "I used to watch champions and dream of becoming like them, and thankfully I have become one," Suha says. "I dream of being a champion in foreign countries, representing Palestine, and to win first place."
Her coach Akram shares the same sentiments. "I dream that the team receives the proper resources so that they are able to become international players like the men's team," he says.
They have a lot of drive, but their efforts are hindered by political instability and a lack of funds. The only thing these ladies can do is wait for the acclaim they so desperately deserve.