Our team recently wrapped up a five-week exchange program to empower international leaders in the field of disability sport. The program was implemented as part of the Center’s cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of State.
The Center has collaborated with the State Department to run the Global Sports Mentoring Program, developed in 2012 by then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton and ESPN President John Skipper, for the past four years. While the original GSMP (now known as GSMP: Empower Women through Sports) focused on women’s empowerment, this revitalized initiative includes a second program concentrated on leaders in the disability sport movement.
The spring’s program included 15 sport leaders from 13 countries (Guatemala, Ecuador, Brazil, Kosovo, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Philippines) who formed the first class of Sport for Community.
Our directors, Drs. Sarah Hillyer and Ashleigh Huffman, who are also clinical assistant professors in the Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies, worked side by side with the participants and their mentors, selected from leading disability sport organizations such as the US Olympic Committee, Lakeshore Foundation, Ability 360, and the University of Texas at Arlington.
Using Hillyer and Huffman’s “Better World” curriculum as the framework, leaders, mentors and the UT team worked together to develop individualized action plans—sports-based business proposals to promote inclusivity and social change in their local communities.
The international leaders selected included two-time Paralympic gold medalist Olesya Vladykina, mentored by Jeff Underwood and Beth Curry at Lakeshore, who developed a campaign called #HowISwim to promote inclusive swim lessons and accessible sports facilities for people with disabilities in Russia.
There were also grassroots workers like JP Maunes, founder of Philippine Accessible Deaf Services, which provides sign language translation and deaf rights advocacy to the hearing-impaired community in Cebu, and Anderson Gama, the marketing manager for Obra Social Dona Meca, an organization that provides sports opportunities for hundreds of children with disabilities in Rio de Janeiro.
At the executive level, five leaders from National Paralympic Committees—Bayron Lopez (Ecuador), Njomza Emini (Kosovo), Priyantha Peiris (Sri Lanka), Deepak KC (Nepal), and Yerlan Suleimenov (Kazakhstan)—developed plans to raise awareness of the Paralympic movement in their countries and increase participation at both the grassroots and elite levels.
“For me, Sport for Community was better than I ever could have imagined,” Huffman said. “To work with men and women in the disability sports space was eye-opening and inspiring. Through sport, there is adversity, but there is also hope and healing. To research and facilitate such an incredible global initiative is important for the University of Tennessee as we seek to ignite change and promote equality throughout the world.”
In addition to its work with the GSMP, the Center partners with the UT’s Athletics Department and Center for Leadership and Service on campus for the VOLeaders Academy, a yearlong sports and leadership program for student-athletes. The inaugural VOLeaders class of thirteen students will travel with Hillyer and Huffman to Brazil for a service-learning trip June 30.
To learn more about GSMP: Sport for Community visit the official website or the program’s social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Instagram. To find or share more Sport for Community news use the hashtags #S4C2016 and #Sport4All.