Name Surname: Daiga Dadzīte
Sector: Culture and Sport
Position:President of Latvian Paralympic Committee and Chairman of the Board in Latvian Association for People with Physical Disabilities Pontes https://www.lpkomiteja.lv/lpk/category/jaunumi/
Background: Daiga Dadzīte is the president of Latvian Paralympic Committee and Co-founder and Chairman of the Board in Latvian Association for People With Physical Disabilities 'Pontes'. Daigas mission is to help people with disabilities, by giving them advice and resolving problems.
In relation to my education, I started working as director's assistant in driving school's training centre. After that, I was commercial director in international Baltic company. In 1998, I got in an accident where I broke my spine, followed by one year of rehabilitation. Back in the work, they were ready to wait for me to get better and return to my duties, however, I decided to leave as I understood that I'm not ready yet to be in a wheelchair and work full time.
In 2000, me and my confederates founded NGO for people with disabilities called 'Jūnijs'. Me and my colleague started to stand up for the rights of people with disabilities – about accessibility, about various support opportunities from Riga City Council. It started from Riga City Council but soon spread throughout Latvia – we collaborated both with The Ministry of Welfare and biggest municipalities. In 2005, we realized that association 'Jūnijs' is not enough anymore and we decided that it's time to create one big organization which will be able to combine all those small organizations which have formed in the past years. So, we created Latvian Association for People with Physical Disabilities 'Pontes'. Unlike 'Jūnijs' which helped people more on individual level, 'Pontes' works on a bigger, more national scale – we take part in discussions held in ministries, if new projects or, for example, legislation are developed and it somehow affects people with disabilities, we work as consultants.
In 2006, I was offered to join in sports, indirectly – by creating Latvian Wheelchair Basketball Federation, apart from 'Pontes', I was also Chairman of the Board in Latvian Wheelchair Basketball Federation. In 2011, there was a minor interest conflict and I decided to leave this federation. From 2009 I am the president of Latvian Paralympic Committee.
My candidacy for the Latvian Paralympic Committee was referred. In 2010, there was official election for the president's position and I was officially elected for 4 years, in 2014 I was elected again for 4 years. Next elections will be in 2018. I don't want to sound too self-confident but at the moment, I don't see anyone who could replace me – I am 'raising' new employees, I have even involved my daughter in Paralympic movement, she is a team leader for all teams, she'd be great general secretary and even president. But, of course, she is young now, she wants to study and live her own life.
Latvian Paralympic Committee is umbrella organization for all sports for people with disabilities in Latvia – we are the ones who direct and invest state resources given for the Paralympic sport. We are also taking part in various international projects, we are writing projects ourselves, we are involving children and young people in sport activities, we try to attract the attention to sports federations in order to show that sport is for everyone, not only for people without any disabilities. We are also showing that there are possibilities to create new type of sports regarding Paralympic movement – in September, by collaborating with Sweden, Denmark and Estonia, new project will start, connected with parasailing – which is not yet so known in Latvia.
Sometimes our local experience can help and instruct other countries – by showing how with so limited resources it's possible to do so much and develop even more. Our Paralympic sportsman achievements are unbelievable! International Paralympic Committee data on athletics shows statistically that by taking into account the population of country and the number of medals won, Latvia is in the first place in the world! In Rio Paralympics, there were 11 athletes from Latvia, representing 7 type of sports, it was something that never happened before in the history of Latvia! Based on the medals our athletes won in Rio, we are ranking 7th in the world.
In 1998 during the accident I broke my spine and therefore the first obstacle I had to overcome was the fear from society – the feeling that you will be perceived wrongly, looks you think you get on the street. First 2 years I didn't even go out, I spent most of my time at home. I have realized that if you don't accept yourself, others won't do it as well. Those other obstacles are nothing like that – okay, something's not accessible, but you can always ask for help and you can also give an advice on how to work better on such issues. Self-acceptance is the most important thing here. To overcome these obstacles, I contacted with other people just like me. When the accident happened, I had the feeling that I'm the only one facing that kind of situation. Back then, there were many great rehabilitation options funded by the state. For example, in one of the rehabilitation centres we were 30 people in wheelchair at the same time – from different cities in Latvia, with different experience. Then, you have the possibility to learn something and after that you realize that you are not alone in this. Experience from other people in similar situation is what helps to overcome difficulties like this. Although, I have to admit that I know a lot of people in wheelchair and 80% of them cannot overcome that kind of struggle.
I've also helped people with disabilities by talking to them, going to rehabilitation centres and explaining them that their life is not over yet. Of course, it is very difficult for them because at least for half a year you think that everything is going to be normal again, I will walk again. Sometimes I got a call from unknown person asking for help, to talk. For me, it's some sort of subconscious mission.
When it comes to my goals, I have to say that I will turn 46 this year, and I had a lot of goals which I had followed and reached eventually. Now I have the goal of involving more children and young people into sports. And my biggest goal of all is to create Paralympic centre here in Latvia. We are taking small steps already and I hope that by all we will achieve this goal! If this will happen then I'll believe that I had done everything I could for the Paralympic sport. Now, there are not a lot of sport centres which are suitable for people with disabilities. First, it is very expensive, for example, one exercise in wheelchair basketball cost approximately 40 – 50 euros. Taking into consideration the overall funding for Paralympic sports in Latvia, we are economizing on everything. Unfortunately, we cannot provide nor this exercise process itself or trainer. Creation of this centre is crucial because in that way we would have accessible space to exercise, we could exercise when we like and when we need, we'd have our physiotherapist, sport medicine physicians and trainers, people could come from all around Latvia in order to live there and exercise. That will also open up opportunities for us to organize international competitions and to popularize the opinion that people with disabilities can do sports! We are showing that there are possibilities for people with severe disabilities to participate as well.
I have good communication skills, also I'm good with motivating and coordinating colleagues and employees. I am still the chairman of the board in organization 'Pontes' where I have to deal with various changes regarding legislation, therefore I am quite literate in laws and legislation. Even though I don't have as much time as I'd want to help others, I'm still trying to do that. Sometimes I got a call from people because, for example, I know what and how you need to do in order to set up a hoist for a wheelchair. I never say no, I then contact the welfare department and take care of organizational matters. I have this amazing opportunity as manager – I can send my employees to courses, trainings and seminars for them to gain new information and improve their knowledge. Improvement and professional development of my employees is of great importance for me. No doubt, I also try to gain new information through various channels and I don't have a problem to use freshly gained information into practice. To be honest, it is hard to manage your employees if you don't understand a thing.
Also, I have quite wide experience and skills in making collaborations – with municipalities, sponsors, organizers of competitions. I involve myself and my employees in such matters – we have regular internal meeting where we discuss what is and what should be done. Although, I would want to trust more – both my employees and other people. Sometimes I feel that I can do specific job faster and better, but in cases like that, I make it harder for myself – both in terms of duties, and personal time.
My first advise is like that – you have to learn how to love yourself. Maybe it sounds trivial but it's true – you have to understand yourself, how you live, how can you manage yourself, after that you can go and live further. Of course, it is good to find the one thing, niche which you are good at, your genius idea – what do you want to do, whether it is a goal or an idea – because often an idea isn't the goal and the other way around.
Every person has its set of skills, for me, example, it's the skill of leadership. From what I remember, I've always been in positions where I can manage and lead. Every person needs to find its own niche – one can lead, the other one can't, it is some sort of an art – to find what you are good at.
Do not sit at home but go and be involved! Actually, there are a lot of things which you can achieve voluntarily. In organization 'Jūnijs', 'Pontes', in Latvian Wheelchair Basketball Federation and at the beginning even in Latvian Paralympic Committee I worked without any salary. My only income was disability support pension and various social benefits and support. Moreover, at the moment, I was raising two children – my own daughter and my younger sister, we lived from disability support pension, daughter's alimony and sister's survivor's pension. But it is possible to overcome all that – all you need is willingness and motivation.
It is possible to achieve so much through volunteer activity – we go and we talk, we asked, we protested and eventually achieved that those small disability support pensions were raised, various matters regarding transportation became better, there were hoists installed, care and assistant allowance regarding people with disabilities was introduced – this was all done by me and my colleague from 'Pontes'. Also, it is really important to maintain political independence if you want to work in NGO.