Story by Jennifer Longdon
Photo by Summer Sorg
Created by the U.S. Department of State, the Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP) is an initiative to empower international leaders in their local disability communities through adaptive sports. Candidates are nominated by the U.S. Embassy in their home country and then paired with a U.S. mentoring organization.
Ability360 Sports & Fitness Center and Program Manager Sarah Olson was chosen as Rola Allahaweh’s match. This is partly due to Olson’s expertise in veterans’ programs.
Major Rola Allahaweh is the fourth Global Sports Mentoring Program mentee Ability360 Sports & Fitness Center has hosted. She returned to her home in Jordan this past April with her new action plan: “Sports for Kids: A New Future.”
“Children with disabilities are often hidden away. They don’t go to school,” Allahaweh said. “By creating an adaptive basketball program for the children of Jordan, we will make them visible and teach them what is possible. This will enable them to get an education, get a job and make a future of their own.”
Allahaweh, a nursing lecturer at Mutah University, conducts medical research on post spinal cord injury. She lives with quadriplegia as a result of a terrorist bombing in Amman in 2005. Her back, neck and brain were impaled by shrapnel. As part of her advocacy, she serves on the Higher Council for Affairs of Persons with Disabilities and the Hashemite Commission for Disabled Soldiers. She helped organize a team of Jordanians to participate in the Invictus Games in 2016 and 2017.
“The GSMP provides us the opportunity to share our platform,” Olson said. ”Teaching the Independent Living philosophy takes every discipline within our organization. Mentees come here to learn the skills to create their own sports program in their home country. They leave with a better understanding of employment, home modifications, driving programs and much more. They leave knowing we’re capable of so much.”
During her time in Phoenix, Allahaweh enjoyed shopping, learning about adaptive driving and visiting sports venues such as Talking Stick Arena and Chase Field to explore accessibility.
The five-week program is structured so mentees arrive in Washington, D.C. for a week of orientation and learning intensive. They then travel to their host city and spend three weeks with their host organization in cultural immersion and program development. The mentees end with a week in Knoxville, Tennessee where they unveil their newly-created programs at the site of program administrator, University of Tennessee Center for Sport, Peace, & Society.
Jennifer Longdon is a Phoenix-based writer, speaker and advocate.