#IDPwD stories: My disability was not the focus
As part of our series for International Day of People with Disability featuring participants in our inclusive programs, Team Up meets Finau Tele’ahiva from Tonga.
Finau Tele’ahiva is a mother of five children. She is the vice-president of the Naunau ‘Alamaite Tonga Association (NATA), a disability self-advocacy group. She is a part-time volunteer at Mango Tree Respite Centre, working as a computer teacher. And she is a table tennis player and para-athlete with the Smash Down Barriers program in Tonga.
“I used to see the Smash Down Barriers program officer come to the school and deliver the table tennis program. Over time I wanted to try, but I thought I would leave the opportunity for the young children,” she explains.
“In 2020, I was invited by one of our NATA staff to join the Fiafia Business House Competition run by the Tonga Table Tennis Association. I was very happy to be invited but felt a little awkward because I did not know how to play table tennis. But my teammates encouraged me to join anyway, so I went along.
“We trained a few times a week and I really enjoyed it. Everyone focused on learning table tennis and those in our team who were better concentrated on improving their skills. I was so happy, especially when the coaches helped me and the others in the team. I really like table tennis because I feel like everyone can develop at their own pace and everyone in the team is supportive of each other,” she said.
Ever since her first experience with the sport, she has been looking for more ways to get involved. “Every time I see Finau, she asks me when this year’s table tennis competition will be,” explains Anaise Uatahausi, the administrative officer for Smash Down Barriers. “From her first ever table tennis competition last year, I know her life has changed. ‘Happy to be part of it’ is exactly how Finau says she feels every time I ask her about her involvement in table tennis,” says Uatahausi.
“I think it is important to tell Finau’s story as a woman with a disability living with her children and grandchildren. She is a role model and, by telling her story, it may encourage other people living with disabilities, especially young girls and women, that it is never too late to try something new,” adds Uatahausi.
Having previously dreamed of getting involved in sport, Tele’ahiva sees table tennis as her second chance. “Joining a sport to compete was something that I always wished I could do. But, because of the limitation my disability had on me, I never did. My limitations played on my mind and I always felt sad knowing that no one would take me seriously. Mentally, I always told myself that I was never going to be good enough for anything, which also affected my outlook on life generally.
“When I went to the business house competition, I was so surprised that everyone played seriously but had fun as well. The most important thing for me was that all the other teams took us seriously - that was a highlight for me. I felt everyone was playing on the same platform for the first time. I felt like my disability was not the focus, but my status as a player was,” explains Tele’ahiva.
“The Smash Down Barriers program has created opportunities for people with a disability to grow, and build self-awareness and self-confidence, in a team environment where everyone is supported. I am so happy to be playing table tennis with my peers. It really makes life worth so much more when you do something you really enjoy,” says Tele’ahiva.
The Smash Down Barriers program in Tonga is supported by Team Up and delivered in partnership by Tonga Table Tennis Federation and International Table Tennis Federation – Oceania.