Free On The Field
May 30th 2017. CAC Global Citizen Joseph Lanzillo returns to work with CAC and the Ministry of Sport in Unguja, Zanzibar.
This week we were back on the largest island of Zanzibar, Unguja, for what is now the fifth consecutive year. Community Impact Coach Nico and I participated here for the first time, though Nick has been here almost every year. With nearly eighty participants, a pristine turf field at the city stadium, adequate cones, and a horde of One World Futbols, we could not have asked for a better setup for our program. The end result did not disappoint – we dodged (almost all of) the rain, played over forty different games, and capped off our excellent week with a much-hyped full-field match between coaches and teachers. Though we ran the program at a fast pace, we did not sacrifice depth: we had a number of substantial discussions about opportunities for girls and women – on and off the field – the rights of children, and how the prevailing Islamic culture in the Zanzibar archipelago underpins local attitudes on these topics. All around, we had a fantastic week.
One of the best things about the week was just another simple reminder about why the sports field is such a special place. On the field, people are free. Free to express themselves in the way they play each game. Despite a language barrier, I’ve often felt like I get to know each participant personally by watching how they play; the way they run or approach the ball reveals something about a player’s personality. It is nothing short of beautiful to assemble a group of men and women of widely ranging ages and watch each of them light up when they receive the ball, or solve a problem, or, most brilliantly, when they celebrate scoring, and to witness them shed some of the restraint they may exhibit off the field. Ultimately, stepping onto the field grants players the liberty to be themselves. It is a form of expression, and the games we play make this joy accessible to participants of any age or ability. For many, sports can be an outlet or a refuge from anything else in their lives; once they take the field, nothing outside of the field matters anymore. While football has this power in all corners of the globe, somehow I never get tired of recognizing it.
Realizing this anew underscored for me the significance of a major focus of our program: the value of offering all children – boys and girls alike – the opportunity to play sports, and secondly, ensuring that those children are protected from all forms of abuse on the field. When communities and families can be rife with conflict, violence and abuse, the opportunity to play freely and safely is ever more valuable to children. To deny that to any child, whether because of their gender or ability or by allowing the field to become an abusive environment, slims the chance that any of those children will grow up to escape the cycle of violence. In our program, we spent considerable time discussing the ways that adults abuse children, how to recognize this abuse, and, most crucially, how to find other ways for our coach and teacher participants to discipline their children. We devoted several other conversations to discussing how and why girls are excluded from sports, finding that the often strict Islamic culture discourages people from allowing girls to play sports, football in particular. Though opposing a dominant religion can stir controversy, as the participants seemed to decide that their girls did in fact have the right to play sports, we explored ways that they could offer girls the opportunity to play without contradicting religion. There remains a significant cultural resistance to overcome, but we tried to avoid pitting girls playing sports against our participants’ religion.
The Ministry of Education also plans to implement CAC curriculum in all of the schools in Unguja, so we can now see how the five years of CAC programs have been appealing to people, and that the discussions we’ve begun on the field have spread off the field throughout the other 51 weeks each year. Excited to see what this program will look like in its sixth year!