Celal was 11 months old when he caught polio, an infectious disease, which causes muscle weakness resulting in inability to move. While there are common vaccines used as a precaution against polio, it was 1980 when Celal suffered from the illness. Since Turkey was under the rule of coup at that moment, Celal’s family couldn’t get Celal to have polio vaccine when he was born. Celal went through 13 serious surgeries until he started junior high. However, he never let his health hold him back in life. He continued his education and enjoyed sports just as any other young boy, only with the addition of a wheelchair. But sadly, as he grew up he came to realize that the system and society do not embrace disabled people. He still remembers how his parents fought with his high school officials to move his classroom to entry level. No matter how many times they requested, Celal’s classroom stayed on the 3rd floor until he graduated. Or how he could play soccer only as a goalkeeper because of his reluctant teammates, even though he had the talent to rock as a striker.
Celal started to take on new challenges as he grew up. Famous for his fairness and honesty, Celal became indispensable for soccer teams in his neighborhood as their most trusted referee. Soon, he started to coach one of the local teams. This made him feel accepted by the society but didn’t satisfy him because he wasn’t active in the field. So he turned his attention towards basketball and happily discovered that “basketball wheelchairs” really do exist. Motivated by such equipment, Celal started to train around the clock. Even though he broke his shinbone, he didn’t give up and made it to men’s national wheelchair basketball team despite his family’s concerns. He traveled the world through tournaments and discovered that other national teams have more modern and customizable wheelchairs, which improves the performance of players. At the tournaments, Turkish team lost to all of their opponents with huge score differences. That’s when he understood that his team would never be good as others because of limited resources, few trainers and poor equipment provided to them. Celal experienced the same struggle when he played table tennis internationally a few years later.
In 2004, he decided give up on his active sports career to establish his own sports club to train children in European the standards. At the age of 25, he founded his foundation, Youth with Disabilities Sports Club, our newest partner, which offers a comprehensive support program including sports activities, socializing opportunities, career guidance for both disabled and non-disabled youth. As he worked tirelessly to create a unique space where everyone can be equal yet different, Celal faced many obstacles. Their first club was located at the basement of a residential building in Adana because he didn’t have enough financial means to get a bigger and proper space. They trained 25 disabled young people in 300 square meters for years. After many meetings with public authorities and hunger strikes, Youth with Disabilities Sports Club moved to 8 acres land to continue its activities.
Today, all children regardless of their background, gender and physical status are welcomed at Youth with Disabilities Sports Club. Both disabled and non-disabled children train for all kinds of sports. They also participate at math, guitar and many other workshops and learn to live together equally. What’s next? Establishing new sport clubs in other cities and reaching out to a broader audience with a mission to get acceptance and respect for disabled youth in our society. Take a look at their project to support them reach out to thousands of children.