Watch No Limits: Wheelchair Basketball in South Sudan, a short film produced by the ICRC’s regional delegation for the United States and Canada.
“No Limits: Wheelchair Basketball in South Sudan” portrays the unlikely friendship between two disabled athletes – one from the US and the other from South Sudan – and their improbable journey from Washington DC to Juba in a bid to bring wheelchair basketball to the survivors of war.
The short film features Malat Wei, who fled war-torn southern Sudan at the age of three and was eventually resettled with his mother and four siblings in Houston, Texas in the US.
Malat, whose father went missing during the over two decades-long conflict that divided Sudan, is now 25 but he is still reminded daily of the fighting, poverty and disease that his family was forced to escape because when he was three, he also contracted polio and lost the use of his legs.
Before being accepted as refugees in the US, the family lived for about nine years in an Ethiopian displacement camp, where Malat fell in love with sports, spending his long days playing football with his able-bodied friends and using only his hands to navigate the dusty pitch.
It was in Texas a few years later when he was introduced to wheelchair basketball by a member of his church. He was immediately hooked. Today, Malat is one of the best competitors in the country and plays university-level wheelchair basketball in Arizona. He also played professionally in France from 2015 to 2016.
“No Limits” tells the story of Malat’s first return to South Sudan – a place that wasn’t even a country when he left. His aim was to meet aspiring South Sudanese players and coach them in wheelchair basketball and he was accompanied by Jess Markt, a 42-year-old from Denver, Colorado who was in a car accident at age 19 that left him paralyzed from the chest down.
Previously a college track-and-field star, wheelchair basketball was a major factor in Jess’ recovery, both physically and mentally.
He now serves as the ICRC’s Diversity, Inclusion and Sports Advisor and has set up programs that incorporate wheelchair basketball into physical rehabilitation programs for people living with disabilities in 19 countries, including Afghanistan, Ethiopia and India.
In addition to physical rehabilitation services, the ICRC also helps people with disabilities play a full part in society. This includes helping them start small businesses, take vocational training and play sports such as wheelchair basketball and football for amputees.
Malat discovered Jess’ coaching work via Facebook a few years ago. The pair later met at a tournament in New Mexico and their friendship was born.
When Malat discovered that Jess was coaching in South Sudan, he pitched the idea of going with him to teach disabled athletes back in his home country how to play. Last November, they did just that, fulfilling Malat’s dream of helping his fellow countrymen by bringing the joy of wheelchair basketball to the newest country in the world.
As the film depicts, this exciting chapter in Malat’s life has only just begun. He and Jess plan to return to Juba in November 2019 to see how the players have progressed. Malat will take on the role of lead coach.