I got to the Accra National Rehabilitation Centre at a quarter past 11 am obviously an hour behind an interview scheduled for 10: 15. I headed straight to the Ghana Blind Union (GBU), structure to meet Eric Kissi but met his absence so had to wait a while.
Eric is Ghana’s first partially blind man to paraglide; or probably the first in Africa after flying at the annual paragliding festival held in Ghana last year.
While waiting in the metal structure being used as an office and having been offered a seat, I observed the structure used to be very busy with activities but abandoned now.
About 6 worn-out wooden chairs, a wardrobe turned into a cupboard with pillows fitted in its small compartments. There were also boxes stuffed with some items including 3 new mattresses and a rubber carpet covering the floor.
I asked my host who I later got to know is the Greater Accra Regional President for the Ghana Blind Union, George Abelse, why the office was abandoned. He explained that the office was active with 4 other blind people producing white canes for sale but the business had collapsed.
Before I could further question him, Kissi had arrived and it was time for the main interview.
Kissi exuded warmth and looked like he had a busy day ahead. He presented a lively look and ushered me into a serene office nearby for the interview.
“I didn’t know much about paragliding. All I could imagine was a parachute but when we got there I realised that it was flying from the ground into the sky,” Kissi said.
“I think it was a slight deception of my imagination but I was a bit terrified prior to flying,” he said with a smile.
Although Kissi was scared of the challenge ahead, he buried all fears, gathered courage and flew, following keenly the instructions of the pilot.
Kissi has embarked on similar adventures like sitting on an elephant; but paragliding, he says, is the best experience he has ever had.
“After I landed, I felt so happy. I said to myself I have done it and anybody at all who is visually impaired can do it.”
Losing sight and my love for sports
For Kissi, his interest in sports was inherent and he has been playing football since his primary school days. He recounts playing in his school’s national team with Ghana’s international player, Harrison Afful.
“I really loved and enjoyed sports. I loved playing football while in school and I used to play football in the school team with Harison Afful. So when I left the regular school for the Akropong School for the Blind I carried it with me and organised football matches,” Kissi explained.
His impairment worsened at age 7 while in primary school. He could read but when characters were very small, it became almost impossible for him to read. So in 1997, his parents enrolled him at the Akropong School for the blind upon the counsel of his teachers.
Joseph Asameni Obiri, who through his outfits Lionize Tourism Consult, organized the paragliding trip for the visually impaired, had had two successful tours for deaf people and intellectually disable groups but wanted a change. He then settled on paragliding for the visually impaired.
“When the idea of taking visually impaired people for paragliding came to mind, I quickly researched and did feasibility before taking the step,” Obiri said during the interview.
He adds: “When it was time to select one blind person to fly I was optimistic about Eric but was rather scared of what people will say if something happened. I couldn’t even watch the scene when he finally took off.
“I trusted God to see me through this initiative, ignoring negative comments from friends and family,” he noted.
In 2007, Kissi played a pivotal role when the Ghana Blind Union and the Ghana Blind Sports Association introduced new sporting disciplines for the blind.
Paragliding Festival in Ghana
Ghana Paragliding Festival according to ghanaparagliding.com dates back to 2003 but the first Ghana Paragliding Festival was launched in 2005. Since then, the festival has grown to become the most important part of the annual Easter celebrations in Ghana. The festival, over the years, has attracted both Ghanaians and people from outside Ghana.
This year’s festival was launched in January and it’s scheduled to take place in March this year.