Close to three percent of the total population in Ethiopia is believed to live with disabilities. Out of the total disabled people living in the country, about 14.4Pct (1.5 million) have a hearing disability. Despite its vast size, the deaf community in Ethiopia is deprived of many basic rights and many are unable to enjoy their lives. However, Senay Deaf Football Club, which was established by Endaleyesus Abate, the former manager of Addis Ababa City Football Club and few strong individuals hearing disability is trying to change this. Established in May 2017, Senay has carried out several promising activities in terms of legalizing the football club, creating a platform for disabled people and building international relationships with parallel clubs in other countries. EBR Adjunct Writer Abiy Wendifraw who visited the team in the training session reflects on their accomplishments and future plans.
One day, in 2014, dozens of young boys arrived in the office of Endaleyesus Abate, the then-manager of the Addis Ababa City Football Club, which was on its way to Ethiopian Premier League. The boys explained to him that they were looking for some help for their amateur deaf football team. The young man, Nathnael Shiferaw, who organized the team, asked Endaleyesus if the club could get old balls and some used kits. Out of curiosity, Endaleyesus welcomed the boys to the meeting hall to find out about them. Later, he gave them the balls and jerseys and they left his office. “They left. But they stayed in my mind,“ says Endaleyesus.
He wanted to stay close to them. He wanted to have a bond with them. Knowing that language is very important, he attended a six-month basic training on Ethiopian sign language and deaf culture. When his contract with the Addis Ababa Football Club terminated in 2016, Endaleyesus, who studied management and studied football coaching at a master’s degree level, committed himself to working with the deaf boys and establishing a formal football team called Senay Deaf Football Club.
“I was searching on the internet for everything about deaf football teams, if it is something people in other countries have done. I learned there was a way to work on it,” explains Endaleyesus.
At the club, which is yet to find a source of income to hire professionals, Endaleyesus is everywhere. He is the manager, coach, marketing officer, secretary, communication officer and everything. “We occasionally get material support. We do not pay the players. We do not even give them shower soap.”
So far, Josambin Sports, and Right to Play, Canadian based NGOs assisted them with kits and other sport materials. Last year, Dashen Beer sponsored the team for ETB180,000 for their kits and travel expenses when they played friendly games with amateur teams in Gondar, Hawassa and Adama. “This is the rare financial support we received in the few years,” says Endaleyesus.
The financial constraints blocked their possible travel to France in 2018 after the team received an invitation from a team in Montpellier. Now Senay Deaf FC is trying to compete in the qualification for 4th World Deaf Football Championship, which will be held in 2020 in South Korea. “We wrote letters to the Prime Minister’s Office and sport governing bodies, hoping for support.”
Now Senay has 30 players, ranging from 17 to 28 years old. Yared Ayele, 18, comes from Menagesha, a small town 30 kilometers away from the capital. To join his teammates, Yared asks his father for ETB50 to cover transportation and lunch. “I love to be here with people like me. And my father knows what it means to me to play football,” he says. “In the future I want to help the team create a very good relation with similar teams abroad.”
Bililegn Mamuye, 17, is another player who is working hard to change his fortunes on the pitch. Bililegn who is studying sport science through special needs education, at Kotebe Metropolitan University, has been playing with the team for the last four years. “When I played with hearing kids in my childhood, I was among the best performers. But I struggled when things demanded hearing. I couldn’t hear teammates who beg me for a pass and the referee’s whistle. So even when I am dribbling the ball, I always monitor what is going on.”
“I have a mind to think and eyes to see. We have limitations that can occur to anybody at normal circumstances” explains Bililegn. “Being able to talk and listen might not always help unless you have someone who understands and speaks your language.”
In order to overcome such challenges, the players constantly keep an eye contact with each other and look at the coach. When the referee makes a call, all the players raise their hands to communicate others.
At the Kokebe Tsebah Secondary and Preparatory School football field, where they do their weekly trainings, there are people watching them quietly. “We are doing everything to get the attention of the public. We need that attention to create awareness and receive resources. I wish government could help us,” adds Bililegn.
Kaleab Abera, 20, is a university student who is one of the two boys in the team with partial inability to hear. He assists his teammates to communicate with people who do not understand sign language. Kaleab clearly knows what he wants to be in the future. “I want to be a football coach for deaf players. I will help them to realize their potential in sport and other professions.”
Bililegn’s dream is similar to Kaleab’s. “I will be a coach. I hope to see more teams in my country to form a league and national team.”
Before every training session, the coach gives personal advice to the players to realize their dream. “How much do we pay for dental implant? How much? ETB 20,000? You are not foolish enough to chew khat and buy a tooth for 20,000, right?” Endaleyesus challenges them. They circle for a prayer. Then, after a minute or two, they enjoy their quiet game.