Dr. Ana Palla-Kane is a faculty member in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Maryland. Dr. Palla-Kane works with teachers in the development of strategies to make physical activity programs accessible to individuals with disabilities.
Through Partners’ Sport for Community program, she served as mentor to Dr. Priscila Lopes, an emerging leader in Brazil who works at the Federal University of the Jequitinhonha and Mucuri Valleys.
Arriving in Diamantina, Brazil, was an adventure. The historic city in the state of Minas Gerais is about four and half hours by car from the state capital of Belo Horizonte. Roads with beautiful views and landscapes took us to the heart of Brazilian history, where a gorgeous June sunset greeted us.
Diamantina’s well-preserved Brazilian Baroque architecture includes ancient stone streets, extra-narrow sidewalks, and old buildings that make accessibility an almost impossible challenge. Constructing new roads, wider sidewalks, ramps, and elevators is forbidden, as the town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Still, I hope that advocates and new policies can make the town accessible to the scores of people with disabilities who live in and visit Diamantina.
One of these advocates is Dr. Priscila Lopes—a faculty member at the multi-campus Federal University of the Jequitinhonha and Mucuri Valleys, or UFVJM. Her program Ginasticando develops gymnastics programs at local schools through teacher training and equipment donations.
In October 2014, Partners’ Sport for Community program paired me with Dr. Lopes as a mentor to help further her important work in Brazil. When Dr. Lopes visited the U.S. for three weeks as part of our mentorship, I worked with her to design Ginasticando, which we hope to expand for students with disabilities. Now supported by a group of committed physical education teachers and undergraduate students, the project is making great progress.
I really enjoyed hosting Dr. Lopes at UMD and being part of the mentorship program. It gave our faculty, undergraduate students, and community the opportunity to learn about Dr. Lopes’ work in Brazil, while also sharing gymnastics-related programs at UMD.
Back in Brazil, we visited the public elementary school EE Matta Machado, which is considered the best in Diamantina. Due to a scorpion infestation, we found a portion of the recess area filled with old equipment from storage like typewriters, dentist chairs, and tables. Four levels of stairs stood between students with disabilities and the school’s main entrance, and a library and computer lab remained unused because of staffing shortages. Still, the motivation of the students and teachers was palpable. They were happy, engaged, and seemed to be on task after interns from UFSMJ led activities that day.
Dr. Lopes is contributing compact gymnastics equipment to the school. However, she is concerned about the students’ and teachers’ ability to maintain it; so, she plans to add an educational component to the program on caring for the space and equipment. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to observe the gymnastics program itself, which was canceled due to closings around a faculty strike.
Students at Matta Machado Elementary School
Later, we went to the Association of Parents of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities – Diamantina, a non-profit organization and school that receives neither state nor federal funding and has a very poor structure and programming. We toured State Special Education School Professor Aires Da Mata Machado, which is completely accessible for students with disabilities and equipped with a theater, cafeteria, indoor gym, and swimming pool. While it has an excellent infrastructure, the school doesn’t have an inclusive model that welcomes students without disabilities.
Adapted Sports Program at UFSMJ
On the last day, I gave a lecture for about 50 faculty, staff, undergraduate students and community partners. We had a very good discussion about strategies for inclusion as well as their experiences and challenges at local schools. It was an excellent way to complete the trip and to return to the U.S. satisfied with the rich learning experience. The challenges are many, but the faculty and students from local schools and UFSMJ are bringing new trends and possibilities to the unique, historic community.
Dr. Ana Palla-Kane, Dr. Priscila Lopes and student interns at UFSMJ
The mentorship was very valuable for both of us professionally and personally. Dr. Lopes and I learned a lot from each other about implementing community programs, shared ideas for future projects, and developed a friendship and partnership that will last.
The Sport for Community program is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s SportsUnited office and supported by the U.S. Mission to Brazil. By nurturing cross-cultural professional relationships, the program leverages sports development to promote economic and social progress in Brazil and the Western Hemisphere.
Contact Dr. Palla-Kane at email@example.com.