by Julius Gale
JUBA， Jan. 12 (Xinhua) -- The face of 33-year old Peter Bol glowed with ardent zeal as he waited to learn new skills to play wheelchair basketball with a group of 32 disabled colleagues.
Bol took up playing wheelchair basketball at the age of 18 after he lost a leg during South Sudan's two decades of civil war for independence from Sudan.
""Basketball is very nice for us and it is helping us with a lot of things. It is encouraging us not to sit idle. Not to drink and it also makes us strong because of the training，"" Bol told Xinhua.
""I'm proud when playing with my fellow colleagues with disabilities. I feel we are contributing to the development of our country，"" he said.
Bol dreams of one day representing his country in the Paralympics and other international basketball competitions.
""My message to colleagues with disabilities is that they should come and participate in basketball and not give up in life. Any person with disability can earn a living through sport，"" Bol added.
According to data from the Ministry of Gender and Social Welfare， at least 424，000 people live with disabilities in South Sudan， mainly as a result of eye diseases， polio and physical injuries during war and violent conflicts.
The report says 85 percent of persons with disabilities live in rural areas with limited access to basic services and employment opportunities.
To promote the rights of the disabled and advance wheelchair basketball in South Sudan， the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in partnership with the South Sudan Wheelchair Basketball Association (SSWBA) has initiated a ten-day training program for wheelchair basketball enthusiasts.
ICRC and SSWBA have brought in American wheelchair basketball coach Jess Markt to the East African nation to train players， coaches and referees.
The wheelchair basketball veteran started practicing the sport at the age of 19 after suffering a spinal cord injury.
He has been coaching since 2009 -- training teams in Afghanistan， India， Palestine and Cambodia， and in his home state of Colorado.
""That is exciting to me because I can see that they have a lot of athletic talent and I know that they can progress quickly once they have good training，"" Markt told reporters during his first training session on Wednesday.
Kim Bany Joak， a local basketball coach， hailed the training as an important initiative that would help transform the country's wheelchair basketball team into a world-class one， urging authorities to avail more training facilities throughout the country.
""I hope today's training will enable us to change from an amateur team to a more professional team that can bring national pride in the future，"" Joak said.
Cornelia Van Wijk， a physiotherapist with ICRC said the training program seeks to empower disabled South Sudanese with relevant skills and knowledge so that they can contribute to their communities. Enditem
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