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JICA volunteers supporting Colombian civil war victims in Tokyo Paralympic bids

Andres Gomez, left, who lost his right leg to a landmine in combat, is seen in Bogota, Colombia, on Jan. 18, 2018. (Mainichi)

BOGOTA, Colombia -- The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is dispatching volunteers here to help former soldiers and others injured in battle or by the numerous landmines from the country's bloody civil war compete in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.

A military rehabilitation center in the country's capital of Bogota that opened one and a half years ago has already succeeded in returning some 600 injured soldiers, police officers and others involved in the civil war to society. One former soldier, Andres Gomez, 27, who loves to play soccer with his friends at the facility, stepped on a landmine four years ago during a battle with anti-government guerilla forces, losing his right leg.

"It was tough at first, but with the encouragement of physical therapists and my family, I was able to overcome the difficulties," he said, and then smiled. "I want to show everyone that even if I have a physical disability, I can still play soccer."

Takeshi Imura (Mainichi)

JICA dispatched Japanese volunteer Takeshi Imura, 45, to work with the Comite Paralimpico Colombiano (Colombian Paralympic committee). Using his experience as a high school physical education teacher in Ishikawa Prefecture, Imura is involved in efforts to train Paralympians in track and field and other sports.

Imura's time in Colombia began in July 2016 and will wrap up at the end of March. He is currently planning to serve as an intermediary between Colombian Paralympic athletes aiming for the Tokyo 2020 Games and a training camp located in Japan to hone their skills.

"I want to support those who have suffered injuries from things like landmines so they can participate in the games," said Imura. "I hope to be involved as a supporter for Team Colombia."

JICA has dispatched an estimated 4,184 volunteers to some 90 countries to support the development of athletes since 1965. These volunteers were involved in training roughly 90 Olympians and Paralympians by the time of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. Some even took medals in the competition. To date, 33 JICA volunteers have been dispatched to Colombia.

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