My Most Valuable Experience
June 25th, 2018. Community Impact Coach, Ntethelelo Ngobese, joins Self-Directed Learning Educator, Markus Bensch from Coaches Across Continents, on-field in Zimbabwe and South Africa with CAC Community Partner World Parks, World Cup.
“Sports have the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sports can create hope, where there was once only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination. Sports is the game of lovers.” NELSON MANDELA
After reading this quotes from the late president, Nelson Mandela, I was inspired to use sport as a social impact tool to respond to the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in my community. From the sport experience I had, I was not confident enough to implement education outside classroom, and feared I would not be able to use sport for social impact. This all changed after I joined Coaches Across Continents (CAC).
I was just on-field as a Community Impact Coach (CIC) in partnership with Friends of Mutale located in Limpopo Province, South Africa. Through CIC program, I have gained massive experience and confidence to implement Education Outside the Classroom, to work with people from different backgrounds with differing perspective and experience. It was also amazing to learn from others culture.
During the first week in Zimbabwe, I learned how to introduce CAC’s Education Outside the Classroom to the people who have never received this kind of education as well as work with those who have experience in the subject. Through interaction with the participants in Zimbabwe, I was also enabled to spot a perspective difference between people from my community and people from that area. I mean the way they’re outgoing and always looking forward to make things happen is unlike where I come from, where most people do not take initiatives to change lives or difficult situations. The people I met are more likely to sit down and criticise those that want to see change happening. This is leaving me with the task to make people aware that taking initiatives is the best thing they can do! I will achieve this through series of strategic awareness campaigns upon my return home!
During the second week in Bende Mutale, I was more confident to implement education outside the classroom after my observation during the program in Zimbabwe. I learned to prepare for the session and to evaluate if the session has achieved its intended impact to the participants through coach backs and discussions, especially on the topi of Child Rights. Child Rights is a major focus for CAC and all of their partnerships around the world. Furthermore on chid rights, I observed that some cultural beliefs may violate children’s rights and thus some education must be done to make people aware of the child rights. Between the two communities, I also observed that most of the people are aware of the challenges they face in their communities and have solutions but do not implement them.
After gaining this experience I am even more confident to proceed with the implementation of the education outside the classroom in my community. I will do this by transferring the knowledge I have gained to my peers through series of trainings for coaches, teachers and other community members in order to work together towards the achievement of sport for social impact!
Creating Positive Impact in a Conflict Zone
August 7th, 2017. Salim Blanden, CAC Community Impact Coach and Founder of CAC partner Mbarara Sports Academy in Uganda, writes about his experience working for Coaches Across Continents on-field with Horn Of Africa Development Initiative (HODI), in Kenya.
Migori, Rusinga Island, Mogotio, Nairobi – our next destination would be Marsabit with HODI (Horn Of Africa Development Initiative) for our fifth and last program in Kenya. Our ten hour trip to Marsabit started at 7:00 AM in Nairobi with everyone looking forward to working with HODI, an amazing program near the Somalia border which is ran by Fatuma Adan, a recent graduate of law.
Fatuma established HODI as a community-based organization in 2003 to address the inadequacy of access to legal services for the poor people of Marsabit. She shunned salaried employment at the judiciary to, instead provide a small legal aid desk for people who needed, but could not afford legal representation in court cases. The organization has since grown to be the voice of championing peace and development in Marsabit through advocacy, education, community cohesion and livelihood support programs – all through using football. Today, HODI serves close to seven thousand people with offices in Marsabit and Moyale. For me, I was looking forward to a great week working with an organization that has a lot of meaning to the people of Marsabit.
As usual, we would start the training on Monday morning. But before we began we held a meeting with Noor Abduqadri, a worker with HODI, and other staff who talked to us about their expectations and what they wanted to learn from Coaches Across Continents. They also wanted to tell us about things to talk about and what not to talk about. Since Marsabit is purely a Muslim majority region, most female participants would wear long dresses commonly known as ‘the Hijab’ and also cover their heads at all times during the training sessions. Noor expressed his fear that the female participants would not be open to us since we were all male. Knowing that Mumina, a staff from HODI and one of the female participants, would be training with us, I knew everything was going to be possible.
As this was going to be our second week conducting a program as Community Impact Coaches (CIC), I did not want to ask a lot from Mark Gabriel – our leader from CAC. But, I did want to find our own way of running a better week with my friend Nicolas Achimpota, a CIC from Tanzania.
Our first day on Monday was a great one and very exciting, especially when we started to play. There were no religious issues, the girls felt free to play with boys and were comfortable with us which was not what we thought. This program was unique because we had more female participants compared to males, which was rare to me. All of the past four programs we did in Kenya had more male partcipants than females. For HODI, it was different, proof of how this organization has empowered women in Marsabit. Majority of the girls were very active throughout the program and during our school visit to one of the primary schools in the area, it was the girls that coached games.
Our third day was a short one, because of the anticipated President’s visit for a political campaign in Marsabit. The President of Kenya was campaigning in Marsabit with a few days remaining to the country’s general elections, and people all over Marsabit wanted to attend this campaign. With little time to the end of the program, one of the participants told us the town would not be a safe place to pass when the president arrives. We decided to stop the training and go back to the hotel, which was the best choice for us. As soon as we reached the hotel, the president arrived and had a peaceful campaign that lasted about one hour with a lot of security personnel on all the streets of Marsabit.
After the president left however, conflict broke out between tribes that supported different county candidates, and the police intervened. We decided to lock ourselves in the rooms until we were sure of safety outside. After the situation normalized in the evening, I knocked on Mark’s door for a long time but he never responded… Later told me he would not risk opening for anyone, even if he knew them. We laughed about it!
At the end of the week, we decided to go back to the field to do the last training and give out certificates, we also wanted to hear their experiences regarding the violence and what they thought ahead of elections.
The coaches held a meeting and talked about how they could keep safe as community leaders during the election period. They all believed that what they had learned from CAC throughout the week and the messages they had learned from the games, especially those about peace and conflict prevention, were necessary for them to practice.
For me this was a clear sign that we had created positive impact at the right time through games.
Online Education Program Runs Across 4 Continents
April 22nd 2016. In December 2015 twelve participants successfully graduated from the first worldwide Online Education Program (OEP) in Sport for Social Impact. Coaches Across Continents (CAC) was delighted to certify these participants who invested 160 hours each during this 9-month course. The coaches are now qualified to use online technology, including Sport Session Planner (SSP), Skype, and email. Through these skills they are now further impacting children and youth locally and globally by sharing games through the online platform SSP. In 2015 the participants represented 7 different countries on the Asian and African continent.
This year in March the 2nd year of our Online Education Program started. After the exciting first year we wanted it to grow and give more people the chance to learn using modern technology. We sent the invitation out and within two weeks we received 60 applications. We have been overwhelmed by this high interest. The applicants underwent a very competitive selection process whereby at the end 30 participants were accepted.
The initial idea of starting an Online Education Program in Sport for Social Impact was that we wanted to offer trainings to coaches that were not able to receive On-Field training with CAC; usually because the safety situation in their community would not allow us to run a program in that particular place. Therefore we are particularly delighted to have 6 participants on the program this year that have never received CAC On-Field training before. Some of the countries that are represented by these coaches are South Sudan, Armenia and India. Looking at all the participants we have coaches from 17 different countries located on 4 different continents: Asia, Africa, Europe and South America. Please have a look at the map below to see that the OEP in its 2nd year has already become a global initiative. The markers represent the locations of all the participants in the 2nd year of CAC’s Online Education Program.
Our vision for the future of the OEP reflects the idea of being able to run a complete On-Field program without being physically present. Let’s see if we can make that happen for 2017. For now we wish our current participants good luck and lots of fun for this year’s program. Let us grow the network of people who have skills to use Sport and Technology as a tool to impact their communities.
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CAC SDL coach Rubén Alvarado blogs from Kigoma, Tanzania as we return to the site of our first ever program!
December 11th 2015. One of my beloved friends (who probably doesn’t remember my name) drank his meals for 21 days. Only juices, nothing solid, nothing processed, everything vegan-raw. He drank his meals because he believes in the power of symbolism. In this journey he saw a chance to return to Earth, to the Origin, and “become flow”, while outstripping the inconsistency of foolish “magical belief” by having a testimony based on his direct experience. He made a movie of it, of the objective, scientifically measurable effects, and the subjective, non visible ones. Hundreds of thousands of people have watched it now, including me, a couple of weeks before I became an official CAC staff member. “Returning to the Origin”. It once more (because the message has just kept showing up over and over again) seems fascinating, but I get that type of fascination that comes with a hole in the middle, of not really rationally grasping what you talk about, maybe because words can’t contain it. However I do not abandon it, mainly because it sounds so cool…
When I knew that I would be coming to Africa the idea gained strength and size. Where it all began for this exceptionally complex and funny creature, for this metaphor of the Universe, where it all began for mankind and womankind. I feel so excited just to remember the excitement that I felt in those moments. In our first days I told Nora, outstanding SDL coach, that I would spend my afternoon saluting the rocks of a mountain nearby our hotel in Iringa. I made it to the top of her list of lovable weird people. I had this major hope that everything would untangle, that clarity and epiphanies would flow like rivers to the ocean of my Mind, that my geographical movement should have allowed some invisible things to move and unlock for me to understand this “Returning to the Origin” thing.
Well, it didn’t. I don’t know if the excess of the local delicacy Ugali blocked the path of the Wisdom or what, but it didn’t. Every experience had amazing value and color, every game played, every person met, participants’ “Aha! moments”, listening to beautiful unknown language, the books I read, resilient communities creating a voice for themselves, the taste of ancient foods, deep passed-bed-time-conversations, bare feet on the grass, everything contained a hint, a possibility, a trace of the ultimate understanding, but it didn’t reveal. Every new answer brought two new questions. This overwhelming (sometimes sweet and sometimes bitter) learning process didn’t generate the spark of desired clarity, however, it delivered a treasurable gift: the humbleness derived of realizing that I know so little, acknowledging all the things that I don’t know and wondering about all those that I don’t know that I don’t know (thanks Dr. J). I joyfully surrendered. “Not my time” I thought…
We arrived to the green and peaceful Kigoma, our last city on the adventurous schedule. Warmly welcomed by our partner and “rafiki” Peter Kilalo. Before we met this year’s participants we honored the municipality’s support by visiting some of its members. “We are very happy to be back in Kigoma, where it all started 8 years ago” said Nora to one of them, my heart bounced a little. I didn’t know that we would finish this journey in the precise origin of Coaches Across Continents, but you know, now that I’d given up with the frenetic quest, the magnetism of symbolism didn’t trigger hope, although it felt cool to add one to the list of serendipities.
The legendary Sports Court, blue as Lake Tanganyika, hosted the session. Children from various ages had just started their holiday season, so, we had guests of honor every day of the week. Laughter available for every Kuku dance, expression of silliness, fall, goal or mistake in Kiswahili (I said Kiwicha, the name of amaranth in Peru, instead of Kichwa, that means head in their language). Things moved forward, Nora, CJ and me danced to the rhythm of the music of the group. Listening, designing, playing, correcting, asking questions, praising, confronting, I felt immersed in the high beat-melodious flow of coaching.
Kids came one afternoon, the coaches experimented with the new knowledge. We didn’t intervene. In between games I saw 2 kids seriously playing, with no identifiable purpose, just kicking a ball and making a tire roll with a stick. Their full self given to the game, no distractions, absolute presence, for a few seconds at least. I raised my head and found Adebayor’s condom tag happening among a flood of laughter. “Yaya one”, “Yaya two”, “Yaya three”, carrying the unmistakable sound emergent from the shape of a smiling mouth, I could hear. Suddenly I remember having read somewhere: “The Universe is made of play”. In 8 years, I can’t imagine how many times a person felt the grace of fun playing one of our games. Coaches, kids, teachers, parents, ourselves. I effortlessly start to feel the Giggle in my heart, it started making sense. We must play, not intermittently, to rest from hard work, but constantly, like breathing, as a natural expression of human nature. In pure play, not the one conditioned by competition, we experiment countless manifestation of boundary dissolution, the fundamental requirement for equity and peace. Even in opposition, we become a unity, acknowledging the value of the presence of the other, without whom the game would not exist, or myself as a player. When purely playing we defy a culture that says we must surrender to all the misery that it creates and thoughtfully displays.
We all know the places where our society and the world need great healing. And by highlighting playing as an urgent human need to rescue, I don’t mean we should only play and not address those other things that hurt us. We want peace, but how can we find peace if we carry the war within? I risk myself to say that fight and play cannot co-exist within the same human being at the same time, not in the heart, not in the body, not in the neural space. Creating spaces for people to play has the same power and value as any other action that aims for social development.
I did not get the answers that I expected, but the ones that serve the most, as usual. They came in the form of a ball, once again. I see it clearly, to have enough ink to write that most wanted story of equity, peace, harmony and happiness, we must return to that origin from where unity, bliss and Love emerge.
Punto y seguimos.
Malawi. The Warm Heart of Africa.
August 1st 2015. Mike Mazzullo writes about his time in Mzimba, Malawi working alongside fellow Columbia University alum and CAC Staff, Nora Dooley.
The first time I heard that Malawi is the Warm Heart of Africa, slight worry nagged me. Even though it’s winter, the thought of a “warm” place in a continent that has some pretty warm places was alarming. Of course, “warm” probably refers to a generous spirit, but one can never be too careful when it comes to high temperatures. After a week in Mzimba, the double meanings of “warm” Malawi can be safely confirmed.
To set the stage a bit, this was a first-year program in Mzimba, which is a medium-sized town in central Malawi. Most of the economy is agricultural. It’d be hard to find better tomatoes. Our participants, who come from Mzimba and the surrounding communities, number about 65. The majority of them are teachers, and thus share a special place in my own heart. I learned of their challenges in the classroom. 90 kids per teacher? Small classrooms without fans, in the African summer? Lack of basic materials like notebooks and pencils for everyone? Hard for me to imagine.
The hope is for CAC’s philosophy – using soccer to teach life or academic or any type of skills – to equip educators with another tool.
That doesn’t mean we can’t have fun. Let me explain the Cucu Dance. It’s used as a form of good-humored punishment.
The Cucu Dance. (Cucu = chicken.) It’s a CAC favorite, and easy to learn. With a slight resemblance to a chicken, you: bend knees, flap elbow-bent wings, and shake your angled legs in and out. Stupid grins are recommended, and tend to come naturally. The whole thing is patently ridiculous and makes a mockery of anyone’s desire to avoid looking like an idiot. It’s a combination of the Charleston, dougie, and Kevin Nolan’s goal celebration. The participants in Mzimba go bonkers for the Cucu Dance. Any awkward silence, on the field or in the classroom or during snack, became an opportune moment to spontaneously break out into full fledged limb-clucking. It’s equally hysterical and shocking. Nora Dooley deserves credit/blame for the proliferation of said dance globally.
Besides the group’s willingness to have fun (often at their own expense), there was also a willingness to address the serious social issues in their community. Take something that stirs little laughter: HIV/AIDS.
One great game to teach about sexual health is the pebble test (officially known as “Can Adebayor See HIV?”). Split your team into two lines, a few yards apart, and facing each other. Everyone put their hands behind their backs. Eyes closed. The coach walks behind the blind rows and quietly places one pebble in a player’s hands, and repeats for the other line. When you shout “eyes open”, one player from each row should be holding a pebble, but make sure everyone keeps their hands hidden. By the way, the pebble represents HIV. Select a player to start the guessing. He or she selects someone on the other row in the hope of revealing the mighty pebble-holder. If the chosen is pebble-less, he or she is the next to guess from the other line. And so on and so on, until finally both owners of the rocks are exposed. What’s the point?
The pebble test is a simple game with a simple message. Like trying to guess if someone is hiding a pebble, we are blind to someone’s HIV status. You can’t see HIV. Don’t judge someone’s sexual health by using the “eye test”- the way they dress, their reputation, or the supposed guilt on their face.
The participants in Mzimba loved the set of HIV/AIDS and sexual health games and identified them as a high-point of the week.
Sexually transmitted diseases are so prevalent, deadly, and misunderstood. What can teachers/coaches/leaders do? Maybe simple classroom instruction is not enough. Maybe some kids need musical songs, other kids need visual aids, others the game of soccer. It’s something worth thinking about, and solving.
Solving Problems in Tanzania
November 27, 2014. On-Field Coach Kelly Conheeney writes about our recent program in Njombe, Tanzania, organized by the Njombe Municipal Council.
As I was passing a classroom, I wondered why all of the girls’ heads were down. One set of eyes peered up at me as I walked by and I smiled to her before our gaze was interrupted by a sharp smack. Curious to find out where the sound had come from, I looked through the glass window once I made it outside. They were in the principal’s office, otherwise known as detention. This completely unacceptable form of punishment in the USA is common practice here in Tanzania. It’s called corporal punishment. If a child misbehaves, doesn’t finish his/her homework, arrives late to class or does something that the teacher thinks deserves punishment- they are physically hit with a ruler on the fingertips. My first thought – how are children supposed to learn in such a hostile environment? Intimidated to try something new, make a mistake or stand up for what they believe in? My second thought – how will the teachers we will be working with adapt to this new concept they are about to learn called self-directed learning?
Two of the participants we are working with this week in Njombe, Tanzania are football coaches – the remaining 30 are school teachers. 4 women and 28 men. Every afternoon the coaches played our games with the children that came to the field from surrounding schools. Aside from a few of the coaches that lived more than 50 km from the field, all of the coaches were able to attend the afternoon sessions. It was crucial for them to watch their peers coach as well as experience the coaching themselves. At the last practice of the week, the pitch was filled with 60 children yelling out Messi and Marta skills that could be heard down the dusty Njombe road.
All week Markus and I had emphasized the importance of letting the children solve their own problems, encouraging them with positive reinforcement, as well as the importance of children using their voices. The biggest challenge the coaches faced was allowing the kids to solve their own problems. In the first afternoon session, the teachers played a game with the children called Messi for Health and Wellness. In this game, there are 2 teams and between the groups there is an area filled with cones, half are right side up, the other half are upside down. One team’s goal is to flip all of the cones so they are faced one way, and the other team’s goal is to flip all of the cones so they are faced the other way. Players take turns flipping the cones and switch every 15 seconds when the coach calls out their number. A simple yet clear example of letting the children solve their own problem would be to tell them to get into 2 equal teams. The coaches however took a very long time to divide the group into 2 equal teams and individually number them one or two. When the game finally began, it was important for us to stand back and watch instead of intervening; only through your own mistakes do you learn to look within yourself to find the solution to your problems and become a self-directed learner. We used this example when talking with the participants during our daily feedback sessions. If you always step in and give the answer to your students or players, they will never find solutions to their own problems.
Through thorough feedback sessions and practice throughout the week, the coaches learned plenty of games to add to their coaching folders and their yearly curriculum. The coaches are one step closer to becoming self-directed learners and I am hopeful that they will implement the games they have learned into their “sport for development” segment of learning in their respective schools. Watching the participants coach the kids was the highlight of my week. Every session the children lit up with joy when they played the games. The smiles and laughs shared by both the coaches and children created an atmosphere that every child should have the right to in this world; a safe space to learn, grow, play and fail without fear of what will follow.