by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Smash Down Barriers aims to use table tennis as a tool to improve the lives of people with disabilities living in Oceania and southeast Asia, currently Fiji, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu in the Pacific; Thailand and Indonesia in Southeast Asia.
Christian Holz relates to story of Iakoba Taberanibou, referred to as Kope.
People with disabilities living in third world countries are often marginalised or discriminated against. In Fiji, there’s a social stigma associated with having a disability, so when Kope acquired his disability during Cyclone Tomas in 2010 he was very scared of being neglected and ridiculed, but he was even more worried for what it would mean to his family.
So scared and depressed, Kope left his family home and headed for Suva. Two years ago I met Kope at a workshop for wheelchair users and he fell in love with the sport. Since then, Kope has represented his country in international competitions, winning a gold medal at the 2015 Pacific Games. In January 2016, he won the Fiji Open which was especially sweet because he won that tournament on home soil, in front of his family and friends. However, his more important achievements occurred outside of table tennis.
In table tennis, Kope found the opportunity to make new friends, with and without a disability. He loves playing with able-body players and often manages to beat them too. He also found an opportunity to join the development team of the Fiji Table Tennis Association and began to visit schools.
Over time, Kope has become the embodiment of the Smash Down Barriers program, no challenge is too big for him (he wheels 10kms to the centre because he can’t afford the bus fare). His next challenge is to connect with people with disabilities all over the world who are depressed, afraid and want to turn their lives around. He hopes that his story will inspire others to smash down the barriers in their lives.