Step Up to Tanzania

“…they danced, cheered, and laughed at the end of the game, joining in the celebration with the other school as the pitch filled with girls singing and celebrating football.”

I believe the gravity of my on-field experience with CAC was felt long before I left the States, as I excitedly and nervously planned with Lou, Kaylin, and Estahappy for months. However the impact my two weeks in Tanzania had on me was greater than I ever expected. The Girls Foundation of Tanzania welcomed us with open arms, and generously opened their home and their lives to us. The more I reflect on this experience, the more deeply grateful I am for their generosity, and I hope I was able to leave a small piece of the impact they left on me. 

Two weeks in Tanzania simultaneously felt like a lifetime and flew by in an instant. The knowledge I gained – socially, culturally and globally has forever changed the way I view the world. The gratitude and pride in their culture the people of Tanzania possess is admirable and enlightening. The chance to live what at times felt like another life on the other side of the world leaves you a different person entirely. 

Our first few days were met with challenges of adjusting, both from jet-lag and culture shock. As we were hoping to hit the ground running, we both learned very quickly that we were going to need to be highly adaptable, and patient with ourselves as we unpacked the vast amount of information we were learning. At our first on-field experience, in a rural school outside of Arusha, we had our first look at how the government schools in Tanzania operated. The headmaster was incredibly welcoming to us, and truly the rest of the time I was blown away. We toured the classroom buildings, where over ninety students fit into 30 desks with one teacher to attempt to learn all they will need to be successful. The students easily walk up to 20 km to school, and there is no running water local to the school, or most of the students’ homes. And yet, the students are bright-eyed, and thrilled to play games and participate in activities with Fred and the TGFT staff. 

I will never forget the moment that Fred pulled out a football from his car – several hundred kids just so excited to have the opportunity to touch the ball, and to run around swarmed us. I was overjoyed to see the kids joy and life, but honestly equally overwhelmed with my own shortcomings in this new environment – the language barriers, the difficulty getting kids to focus on the games instead of how obviously different from them I was, and the struggles of trying to lead games without being able to deliver purposeful play messages in the same way I would have in my home state. Additionally, the mix of emotions swirling encompassed a common thought – after seeing all the challenges these young people are facing everyday, am I doing enough here? Am I making an impact?

As we got our feet under us, I was able to start to adapt to the challenges I was facing, with varied success. The more we asked questions to both the staff and the girls at the foundation, the clearer the picture of what they were working with became to me. When conducting purposeful play, the staff is attempting to work with small groups of kids when there are hundreds of kids outside at a time – and they all want to play. They have little equipment in ratio to the amount of kids they are instructing, and the sessions can easily become disorganized. Additionally, they shared with us the need for games that they knew could be understood on a very basic level in order to deliver the message for the younger kids, and the new need for indoor games with the last brutal rainy season. Kaylin and I were able to leave them with a number of new games with the context we gained of working with large groups, little equipment, and varying circumstances. 

Discussing & Demonstrating game options with the TGFT Staff

As the time went on, Kaylin and I were able to feel more successful in our sessions by relying on both tried and true games, and largely thanks to several of the girls at the foundation who put their peer mentorship skills to work as they helped us translate and organize games. For me, I learned I needed to relax and not stress as much about the details of the game – at the end of the day, these are kids excited to play and learn, language barrier or not, this remained the same. When working with the secondary kids, all the sessions worked well with preparation and demonstrating, but with the primary schools, I quickly learned much more detail and planning for games was needed, and I basically had to start from scratch from everything I would have used to run a session in the US. The personal accomplishment of seeing the joy on the kids’ faces when they understood the game, got to have time with the ball, and got to just run around and be free was priceless. The power of play to not only share messages, but to let kids be themselves, despite the challenges they may face in their daily lives, is life-changing. 

Running Purposeful Play
Arkatan Primary School
Kirayni Secondary School

One of the most impactful moments for me was the opportunity to work with the Kirayni Secondary Girls School football team as they prepared for and competed in their first ever official football match against another school. Girls are empowered through sport – this is true all over the world. From my first chance to speak with the girls, I spoke to them about the confidence that playing football gave me from a young age, and how that they were trailblazers in their own right, paving the way for girls football at their school. How heartwarming it was to see their faces light up and connect to the message – and the fun just started there. Coaching a session of football basics they would need for their game, and then actually attending and coaching them at their first official football game with another school was AMAZING! The excitement and joy that surrounded the whole atmosphere from both teams, I was so grateful just to be there. The girls at Kirayni lost – but you would have never known the way our sideline exploded when we scored and how they danced, cheered, and laughed at the end of the game, joining in the celebration with the other school as the pitch filled with girls singing and celebrating football. Their joy and love of the game, and the chance to be free for a little while,  has reminded me why I fell in love with football in the first place. As a collegiate soccer player, I have so many times got swept up in my day to day monotony – practice, class, sleep repeat. The gratitude and joy the girls in Tanzania have shown me is something I hope to keep with me. 

Coaching the Kirayni Girls Football Team

I could go on and on about the lessons I learned in Tanzania and the small moments that have changed my heart forever – playing cards with the girls at the foundation in the evenings, learning to eat traditional Tanzanian food, touring the new girls center, and attending evening exercises with the staff and girls. The one thing that kept running in my mind was the importance of the family atmosphere TGFT has created here, giving these girls not only a chance at their education, but a chance at a support system. 

As someone who studies leadership in graduate school I have learned much about the ins and outs of challenging leadership roles – but seeing the staff lead so incredibly powerfully and humbly has shattered all academic expectations I’ve been taught. I’m so grateful to Estahappy, Helen, Fred, Grace, Neeyma, and all of the girls for welcoming me with open arms, answering hundreds of questions, and most of all, for doing the work they are doing so humbly and gracefully. Asante Sana to TGFT for giving me the experience of a lifetime, to CAC – Lou and Saraswati – for patiently teaching me and exposing me to thought processes I had never dreamed of, and to Kaylin, a new friend who I got to experience all of this with!

Tanzania, you have my heart, and I hope to be back one day!
Brenna Murray CAC Step Up athlete May 2023 – May 2024

On Safari in Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti, a part of our trip I will never forget!

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