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Taking people with disabilities out onto the water in Iran

For a long time we, the Iran Rafting Association (IRA), have been thinking about how to grow water sports for all. That’s why we formed the “Para Rafting” Committee in our association with the cooperation of Mr. Saeed Zarori, who is a well-known person, with disabilities, in the field of adventure activities. We had already had the experience of working together on a rafting tour on the Sefid Roud River (Gilan-Iran) for a group of disabled people. It was a great experience! We decided then to spend more time and have more programs of this type.

As the start for our Para Rafting Committee we planned a kayaking tour on a calm river near to the Caspian Sea in Gilan, Iran. Last week we performed this tour for 20 people with disabilities. I remember when we shared the poster – the tour was filled in less than an hour! There were a lot of people with disabilities who wanted to join us, but the maximum capacity was 20 and we could not accept more people as it was a sensitive program and we needed to consider all the special needs of these lovely people.

We had the valuable aims of having a fun kayaking program as well as conserving nature. Our motto was “save the rivers”, so these people helped us to clean the river by removing as much rubbish from the river as we could.

The meeting point was Jirsar Bagherkhale Ecotourism Centre. This centre was created by the governments of Iran and Japan (JAIKA) as an ecotourism project to protect the Anazli wetland, to grow green tourism and employ local people, to help stop hunting and to create sustainability in the area.

The Ecotourism Centre had accepted to be our host and so provided the services we needed including a nice place for us all to get together, have the safety briefing, serve lunch, meet local people, buy local products and so forth. They did a great job and all of us had a great time there!

The river was one of the branches of the Sefidroud which flows to the Anazli wetland. It was calm enough to have safe kayaking on. The nature around the river was amazing; there were lots of wild horses and buffaloes were grazing the grass and it created great scenery for all of us!

A day before the program, we had made a natural platform with the help of the villagers, for people to use to get on and off the craft. Of course it was not perfect, but it was fine for our one day plan.

We had 5 touring kayaks (k2) which were to be used as tandem kayaks – so an experienced kayaker sitting at the back and a person with disabilities sitting in the front. And we had 4 kayaks (k1) for them to to paddle around and have fun (telling jokes, splashing water, etc) and if needed to help in getting on/off.

We had 5 kayakers from the IRA and 5 kayakers from the villagers. We had meetings with all our kayakers to explain about the groups special needs and how to handle the program as a team (the team of kayakers and the team of people with disabilities).

We divided the 20 people into 4 groups of 5 people, so we could do the program 4 times. We made seats for a few of them with foam and extra life jackets.

When it came time to paddle we were so surprised by their endless energy and interest! Most of them became great paddlers in a short time! They paddled so hard and at the same time worked to remove the garbage. All our kayakers (from IRA and the village), the Japanese project consultants, and all people around were so impressed by them!

It was nice to see so many people supporting them from the start point (Tehran) as volunteers and organisations including the Disabled People Association, Marcopolo Ecotourism Centre, Jirsar Bagherkhaleh Ecotourism Centre, etc.

I was very happy to have helped initiate and to manage this program. Now we have had a lot more requests to do such programs, and many of these people have decided to choose kayaking and rafting as their sport and fun.

At IRA we are promoting Para Rafting in Iran and worldwide as we believe rafting belongs to all. These people proved they are ABLE to enjoy paddling and can be an important part of Eco-Rafting.

So let’s improve this idea and promote Para Rafting and Para Kayaking all around the world.

Kianoosh Mehrabi

Iran Rafting Association

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