Right To Play/Canada/the team/Yonas Tadesse

Gaining Confidence Through Participation: The Power of One

April 2008

Yonas Tadesse is an Ethiopian high school student living with a disability. He is also a trained Coach for international humanitarian organization Right To Play. His experience with Right To Play helped him to overcome a difficult childhood by developing his self-confidence and his role as a leader within his community. He has become an active role model for children and an inspiration to everyone who meets him.

Yonas was born and grew up in a disadvantaged community called Kirkos, a subsection of Addis Ababa. He has faced many of life’s challenges since he was a child. He lost his family at an early age and did not get the opportunity to be raised by his biological parents. He also became affected with polio and today lives with physical disability.

Yonas attended school as a young boy, but discontinued his education in Grade 10 because he could no longer tolerate the discrimination and stigma. He felt completely alone and did not have much social contact, he said in an interview. All he knew was his way to and from home and school. He was very shy and inactive both at home and in school, and spent much of his time thinking about his disabilities and the things that he could not do.  Worried about society’s stigma and discriminations, he chose to shy away from all activities that involved other people.

In school, he did not participate in sport activities. “I was always worried and frightened when physical and sport education class came up,” said Yonas. The Health and Physical education teachers used to tell him that they would give him a passing mark and advise him to sit down and watch. Yonas said, “The teachers did so to be kind but it was painful for me… I was very much discouraged and alienated.”

One ordinary day in May 2005, an opportunity came that changed his life.  Yonas was recruited to be trained as a Right To Play volunteer Coach. The organization trains local teachers and Coaches to work with children and youth to develop life skills, including the value of inclusion of girls, ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities.

Continuous training in life skills, the Right To Play resources and the chance to demonstrate his abilities have helped Yonas become the person he is today. His challenges have made him stronger and given him the courage to face them.

“At first I could not believe that this chance was granted to me as I was looking down at myself, and I thought it will not be possible.” However, he convinced himself to take the training. By the end of the training, Yonas had developed self-confidence, enthusiasm and motivation. He said, “Why not… I can do it.”

He now calls it, “one of the best decisions I ever made in my entire life.” He made a promise to himself not to look back at his past, and decided to volunteer and work for his community. Soon after the end of the training, Yonas posted an announcement on the school notice board in his neighborhood requesting children and youth to join a team he was forming.

At first, he was not welcomed warmly. But he was prepared not to be discouraged and to continue to fight the stigma. Emboldened with the support he received from the Right To Play team, he started running a sport and play program for children and youth in his community.

After a while, Yonas became a popular Coach in his community and was appreciated by his family and neighbours because of the new skills and self-confidence he had developed through his Coach training. Leaders and elders within the community acknowledged the change that Yonas had made in himself and they started contacting him to coach their children.

Parents started visiting his sessions on the field and observing the work he did with their children. This recognition allowed Yonas to earn respect from district and community leaders. Yonas became known for being a role model for children and youth living with and without disabilities.

“All doors that had once been closed, started to open,” said Yonas.  He started getting invitations to speak on issues like stigma and exclusion. He says that Right To Play training and experience brought light to his life which continues to shine for so many disadvantaged children in his community.

Yonas has emerged as an influential personality in his community. He said, “I have learned to be more organized and relaxed. I will not worry, thinking of things I can’t do – rather, I focus [on] what I can do”.  He added that continuous training in life skills, the Right To Play resources and the chance to demonstrate his abilities have helped him to become the person he is today. His challenges have made him stronger and given him the courage to face them.

Yonas remains today a very strong member and leader in his community and a dedicated, high caliber Coach for Right To Play who believes strongly in Sport for Development. He transformed himself from a child hiding in his house to an active social and community leader and a role model for the children and youth who work with him. He can’t stop talking about how Right To Play helped him to realize that everyone can be an active member of the community and make a contribution. “Today I have developed self confidence to offer something to the community and do not expect anything [in return], unlike the traditional expectations and assumptions,” said Yonas.

Yonas runs sport and play programs three times a week for more than 45 children with disabilities, and leads training sessions for Coaches. In 2008, Right To Play Ethiopia assessed the performance of Coaches and their attitude, and selected Yonas to be promoted to a Coach Trainer position.