Ramesh Khatri experiences the thrills of para ski in South Korea. (Photo: Ramesh's Facebook)

Nepal: Helping people with disability stay healthy during COVID-19

Article 03 December 2020 Nepal

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the ICRC has continued its work to support people with disability across the world. In Nepal, Nirmala Bhandari and Ramesh Khatri are part of a group of people who attended the ICRC's three-month-long sessions to encourage fitness, healthy living, and provide psychosocial support in these challenging times. An inspiration to others, they fought hard to stand on their feet and built a career in sports with sheer self-belief and confidence. This International Day of People with Disabilities, as the world underscores the importance of 'Building Back Better: Toward a Disability-Inclusive, Accessible and Sustainable Post COVID-19 World', we share a glimpse of how they have stayed motivated and overcome challenges during COVID-19.

Regaining zeal for life

A para-athlete who has won many accolades, Nirmala first wore the wheelchair basketball team jersey in 2016-17. Soon after, she announced herself as a promising para powerlifter. One of the few women who have taken up this sport in the country, Nirmala had an enriching experience when she first participated at the international level in the 3rd Asian Para Games held in Jakarta, Indonesia in October 2018. The event, held for Asian athletes with disability, paralleled the 18th edition of the Asian Games.

'Interesting', 'motivating', and 'qualitative' – is how Nirmala describes the ICRC initiative 'Fit and Healthy, No Matter What – Online Adaptive Sports, Awareness Making and Psycho Social Support for the People with Disability'. The three-month-long programme held 11 July to 30 September 2020 was a joint initiative of the ICRC Mission in Nepal and ENGAGE – a local non-governmental organisation partnering with youths living with disabilities.

Nirmala says while the 'Speaker's corner' sessions were captivating, the session on 'Zumba for physical wellbeing' brought much-needed energy and zeal back into her life at a time when everything else looked gloomy due to the COVID-19 pandemic, its socio-economic consequences and severe restrictions. "The 'Speaker's corner' sessions were outside my imagination – offering brilliant narrations by the facilitators, who also informed us about motivation books. I would go back to the session's recording on Facebook whenever I got the opportunity," she said.

The 'Workout – physical conditioning' sessions, she says, not only helped her resume the routine stretching exercises, but also gave her the motivation to continue her fitness regimen despite the adverse situation. The 'Psychosocial support' sessions were instrumental in sharing knowledge about the importance of mental wellbeing.

Nirmala celebrates her team's first title victory at a wheelchair basketball tournament in Kathmandu in 2019. ©Eliza Bhandari

Wearing many hats

A wheelchair basketball player, swimmer, and cricketer. At 22, Ramesh – a talented para-athlete – wears multiple hats. Besides representing Nepal as a para-swimmer at the 3rd Asian Para Games in Jakarta, he has travelled to Japan and South Korea for training and practice sessions. While he is yet to represent the country in wheelchair basketball, Ramesh already wears the national jersey of the men's wheelchair cricket team and believes this is just the beginning.

A survivor of the mega earthquake that hit Nepal in April 2015, Ramesh recalls, "I was devastated. I couldn't think of anything. It felt it was the end of life as I had known it." Belonging to Dailekh district in western Nepal, Ramesh was only 17 when the earth trembled furiously. He had just started working at a hotel in Balaju, Kathmandu. After staying trapped for 12 hours under the debris of the hotel building, Ramesh was fortunately rescued alive. But he had lost his lower limbs.

During the pandemic, Ramesh also attended the sessions as part of the 'Fit and Healthy, No Matter What' initiative. He says while the entire programme was useful in more ways than one, what he particularly liked were the sessions on physical exercise and psychosocial support.

"It was after I got involved in para-sports that I started believing in myself all over again," adds Ramesh, who was also one of the successful participants at the week-long wheelchair basketball training organised by the ICRC Mission in Nepal in collaboration with the Nepal Spinal Cord Injury Sports Association (NSCISA) in Kathmandu from 31 October to 6 November 2019. The training held at the accessible basketball court at Bouddha International School, Jorpati, Kathmandu was supported by local basketball coaches brought in by ENGAGE Nepal.