Smash Down Barriers: Inclusive Environment for People with Disabilities

Fifita, and many other people with disabilities (PWD), grew up limiting their social contact because society is yet inclusive enough to provide equal chances and support networks around them. Our Dream Building Fund 20 project Smash Down Barriers addresses this challenge to create an inclusive community for PWD through table tennis training. How does this initiative provide a platform for PWD to support diversity while empowering themselves?

Fifita Lolohea is a 51-years-old participant of the Dream Building Fund (DBF) 20 project Smash Down Barriers, who lives in Niutoua, Tongatapu. She remembers vividly how other children harassed her 7-years-old version because of her disabilities.

“Growing up was tough because a lot of kids teased me, so I didn’t have a lot of positive self-esteem.” - Fifita Lolohea, Smash Down Barriers participant.

Disability harassment can happen in various forms anywhere. Unlike bullying, discrimination based on a person’s disability need not be repetitive or intentional harm. But bullying and disability harassment have one similarity: They can create a hostile learning environment, negatively affecting the victim’s education, health, and well-being.

“I got married and I moved here to the main island 8 years so. Coming to my new home, I was hesitant to go out because I don’t like attracting attention to myself. I don’t usually like to attend social gatherings apart from going to church and to go to close family events.” - Fifita Lolohea.

Disability social inclusion is desired everywhere. It promotes the chance to learn and accept individual diversity so that everybody can get the same opportunities to participate in society. Hence, the initiative Smash Down Barriers was born.

Inclusive community for everyone!

Smash Down Barriers by the Tonga Table Tennis Federation (TTTF), one initiative of Dream Building Fund 2020, has proven the use of table tennis to promote social inclusion of people with a disability (PWD) in remote villages and outer islands of Tonga.

The TTTF employs three pillars in the programme: education, competition, and collaboration. Through regular table tennis exercises, they educate the public and show the sports skills of PWD could improve their lives.

Fifita joined the initiative in September 2020 during the project launch and the workshop to celebrate Disability Awareness Month on 22 September. She never looked back ever since.

“I am so blessed to have attended the launch. I am glad I went, and I only attended because the nurse told me about it. She called the day before to remind me to come. I was comforted to see there are so many people with disabilities out there. There is a sport that encourages us to take part as players, coaches or officials. I have also joined the inclusion education sessions and enjoyed learning with others from other villages. I feel safe and comfortable because I learned from the workshops that people with disability contribute to society. Two of the staff from Tonga Table Tennis have disabilities, so it empowered me to become a volunteer. I can attend our local school and teach fun table tennis games. I am so happy to learn that PWD can also accomplish great things in life. So, I have enjoyed the opportunities the Dream Building Project has offered me to learn something new and accept who I am. I am happier now and feel confident in myself; I want to help teach others around me and in my community that people like me can do good things. I want to encourage other women with disabilities that we can do positive work in our society.” - Fifita Lolohea.

We, the ITTF Foundation, are delighted to see positive changes in one’s life and their communities. Fifita now feels empowered enough to contribute to social inclusion they strive for through table tennis training. We wish to thank Netina Latu Ve and Smash Down Barriers team for their passionate work promoting social inclusion for people with disabilities through table tennis training! It is an honourable and encouraging way to use table tennis as an enabler for social development.

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