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Rwandan volleyball team to compete at Paralympics

Jean Paul Ngilimana Image copyright Ben Langdon Photography
Image caption Rwanda is the first sitting volleyball team from sub-Saharan Africa to compete in the Paralympics

A volunteer aid worker has spoken of the "immense pride" he will feel when the Rwandan sitting volleyball team takes to the court at the London 2012 Paralympics.

Simon Corden, 50, who went to work in the country last year, ended up helping to raise money for a qualifying event which led to the team winning a place in the Games.

Mr Corden, from Walsall, said: "Many of the athletes' lives were devastated by genocide and two members of the team actually lost their legs while they fought on opposing sides during the conflict.

"Now they're playing together in the same team with the same goal."

One of those men is Dominique Bizimana, 36, who lost his lower left leg while fighting for rebel forces in 1992.

He is now the president of the National Paralympic Committee (NPC) Rwanda.

'Polarised views'

He said: "Sport has changed my life and going to London has always been my ultimate dream.

"I started up a small team of players in 2002 which included Jean [Rukondo], a former national soldier, who lost his leg fighting for the Force Arme Rwandaises.

"We now play together to become role models for young people with disabilities in Rwanda."

It is the first time a sitting volleyball team from sub-Saharan Africa will compete in the Paralympics.

Image caption Simon Corden has also helped to set up a sports scheme for disabled children in Rwanda

Rwanda won a place at London 2012 by beating Kenya in the final of the qualifying event, sparking what Mr Corden called "amazing scenes".

"One of the more able-bodied players picked up his team-mate who had no legs and he was bouncing with him, because he couldn't.

"He wanted him to join in and it was really, really emotional."

Mr Corden, a volunteer with international development organisation Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), was sent to Rwanda by the organisation in September 2011.

He said: "There are some very polarised views about disability there and some in the rural communities see having a child with a disability as a divine curse.

"I've heard stories, anecdotally, that parents have found ways to make sure those children don't survive beyond a few weeks.

"But I have also seen the more positive aspects and attitudes to disability and the trigger for that has been the introduction of sport into people's lives."

Mr Corden has also helped the National Paralympic Committee (NPC) Rwanda set up a scheme to get disabled children involved in sports.

"This team will be really positive role models in helping young people with disabilities in Rwanda reach their potential.

"For so many of the competitors this is a first time leaving Rwanda and going on a plane, but they will go back with inspiring stories to tell to friends and family about going to London and competing in the Paralympics."

The Rwandan team play their first game of the Paralympics on Thursday night when they take on Iraq.

Mr Corden said: "There's a small group of VSO volunteers who'll be in with the Rwandan supporters.

"I'm sure we'll have some fun and it'll be pretty noisy."

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