Voices (ISL Stories)

Breaking Barriers: Insights from the "ZAK Inclusive Basketball" Service Learning Project

Today, we uncover a remarkable service learning initiative led by Juan and Taiyo, two 12 Grade students. Collaborating with ZAK, a local basketball club supporting athletes with disabilities, they have embarked on a journey of inclusion and community engagement. Their project shows us the power of sports in fostering connections and breaking down barriers. Let's learn more about their project 

Could you briefly introduce yourself?

Taiyo: My name is Taiyo, I am a Luxembourgish student currently in Grade 12 at the International School of Luxembourg.

Juan: My name is Juan, I am a Spanish student currently in Grade 12.

Could you briefly describe your " ZAK Inclusive Basketball" project and its goals?

Taiyo & Juan: ZAK Inclusive Basketball is a Basketball club in Luxembourg that helps people with disabilities and special needs. Our project was to have volunteers from ISL participate in regular training with them, thereby encouraging inclusion as well as helping them. The goal of this was to form connections with these athletes and play Basketball with them to develop a sense of community that includes people that are on the spectrum and have either mental or physical disabilities.

What motivated you to focus on this topic for your service learning project?

Juan: Well Taiyo and I both play different sports and we both think that inclusion and being open minded in sports can definitely result in a positive impact in our community, in this case for ZAK it was an opportunity to try something new for both of us and I would say it was also a way in which we could take a break from studying and play sports at the same time as we are doing something good for ourselves and the community at ISL.

Taiyo: I believe that there are many different forms of inclusion related projects that have taken place in the ISL community, however there has been a lack of awareness for the inclusion of people with mental and physical disabilities. Thus, I wanted to be part of this, and ensure regular participation of ISL students at ZAK training.

Throughout your service learning project, what are some key lessons or insights you've gained about inclusivity in sports and community engagement?

Taiyo: I believe that inclusivity in sports is a very important yet fun way of engaging with the community. Firstly, it allows for a friendly environment which also encourages the competitive aspect that comes with playing sports. Additionally, something I’ve learned is to not underestimate the athletic abilities of any individual, as a lot of the players have high level skills and overall understanding of the game. 

Juan: When I started going to the basketball practices that ZAK was doing, before I thought that I was going there with the most understanding of the game and that I was going to be like a coach to the players there, but as I showed up more and more to these trainings, I saw that I was not the only one with knowledge on the game or that knew how to play because nearly everyone there had some kind of knowledge and understanding on how everything worked.

What were some of the key challenges you faced during the project, and how did your approach help address them?

Taiyo: The first challenge I faced with the project was with first expectations going into the first training session. For myself this was a very new experience, yet I was immediately greeted and welcomed by all the teammates with big smiles. Conveying this message to other first-time volunteers was equally important as it is necessary to attend these training sessions while being respectful and aware of everyone’s disabilities.

Juan: For me especially, I wasn’t born in Luxembourg and was never taught how to speak Luxembourgish as the players at ZAK spoke it. Thankfully, my friend and project colleague Taiyo spoke the same language and was able to translate for me most of the time. Another challenge I faced was that most of the players have the same disabilities but some have different ones so you don’t know how they will react to some stuff or how friendly they are, but we never had any issues with them, they mostly did not mind us and were very friendly towards us.

Can you share a memorable moment or experience from working on this service learning project?

Taiyo: A memorable experience from this experience was forming a deeper bond and relationship with some of the teammates. After many regular training sessions, they would ask to make sure we would show up again and were always happy and excited to see us, which made training overall much more enjoyable.

Juan: A memorable experience that I can take away from this project is the way in which at the start of the trainings, we were not really excluded but the players at ZAK were a bit scared to meet us and I think one of the most memorable moments is being able to achieve a relationship with most of the people and coaches at ZAK.

What do you hope the broader school community will take away from your project?

Juan: I think the most important takeaway from our project that the school community can benefit from is that thanks to Taiyo and I we raised much more awareness on the different disabilities there are and that also it is a very open project that can benefit many people at our school.

Taiyo: Overall, I believe that the school community is quite limited in terms of the inclusion of people with various disabilities, and this is a perfect opportunity for our students to get involved on a regular basis, and thus I hope that this project will continue for years to come.

How do you think service learning initiatives like yours contribute to fostering inclusion within the school and beyond?

Taiyo: Feeling included and like you belong to a group is vital, especially for these athletes, which is why their attendance made the club more complete. As ISL students don’t often get the opportunity to be in contact with these people in our regular lives in terms of school, our friends, and our own sports clubs, ZAK offers a unique opportunity in this sense to develop that relationship we usually won’t come across.

Moving forward, do you have any plans to continue or expand upon this project, or explore other related initiatives?

Taiyo & Juan: Moving forward, Juan and I have carefully considered future ISL ZAK project leaders, and passed this project down to two 11th graders, one of which has regularly attended training for over a year. We gave them our insight on our ideas on how the project can expand and move forwards, yet also want every future project leader to come up with new initiatives to better and develop this opportunity even further.

In reflection, the impact of the "ZAK Inclusive Basketball" project extends far beyond the basketball court. Through their dedication and empathy, Taiyo and Juan have nurtured a culture of inclusivity and understanding within our community. As they pass on their project to future students, their commitment to inclusivity and service will continue, shaping a world that values kindness and celebrates differences.