• Fight for Your Rights

    December 23, 2014. Volunteer Alison Pleiman details her final week with CAC in Nepal after four weeks with us On-Field in India.

    Namaste from Nepal, where CAC and Childreach Nepal combine forces. Upon meeting our partners in Kathmandu, we embarked on a journey out of the city and into the mountains for a week of training up in the clouds. Together we bounced 5 hours up rocky, winding roads through quiet village life and slowly transitioned into a calmer reality. Cutting around cliffs and sliding along streams, we passed farmers with their crops, cows, goats, chickens, and smiling children. Mesmerized by the nature all around us, it seems every turn brought a new breathtaking view. Gradually rising to 2800m in the Langtang Valley region, we arrived at our destination: Yangrima Boarding School in Sindhupalchok. This school was started in 1986, bombed in 2006, and rebuilt/reopened in 2009. This establishment has huge potential to impact the community, with many teachers and students traveling hours each day to attend.

    It quickly became clear that we were a great match with Childreach. Their current project ‘My School, My Voice’ is working to create a Child Parliament that gives young leaders in schools the chance to come together and speak out, seeking solutions for the main challenges they face in their community; Childreach aspires to cultivate a population of child leaders by increasing education and spreading awareness for child rights. Many of their objectives fit nicely into CAC’s self-directed learning model, so we were excited to work together this week and add an extra level of help through futbol.

    The main social issues identified at the onset of training helped us zero in on their top priorities. When the participants were propositioned to vote privately for what they felt was the biggest issue in their community, child labor was the resounding response, closely followed by corporal punishment. (Gender discrimination trailed just behind, as did child marriage and child trafficking.) Given this feedback, our curriculum this week would be devoted to child rights, in addition to our usual mix of games covering life skills, conflict resolution, problem solving, and health.

    Specifically targeting child labor and corporal punishment, this focus enabled us to have strong discussion throughout the week about types of abuse and their negative effects. For example, with our Right to Fair Punishment game, the winning team gets to choose the punishment for the losing teams– so after observing punishments become harder and harder, more physically demanding, we were able to talk about ‘when is it ok to be punished?’ Some responses were ‘when you make a mistake.’ Others were ‘repeat mistake.’ One participant tried to explain that beating is ok if kids are lazy and need a push. This opened the floor up for some negotiation. Does beating have to be the only way to get the point across? Fortunately someone suggested maybe by doing work around the school or extra activities, the child can learn the same lesson without the abuse. ‘One problem, many solutions’ is a key CAC phrase that everyone was shouting out by the end of the week. Also, they were able to experience how CAC uses dancing as a fun form of punishment in our games, as long as it’s not humiliating the child, and this new idea was very appealing to several members of the group. Mainly, these discussions allowed us to closely examine how some punishments can harm a child mentally and emotionally as well as physically.

    Similarly, our Right to Play game opened up the floor to talk about why kids should have this right. When asked why, the group had difficulty answering beyond ‘physical strength,’ so again we were able to address the importance of mental and emotional development, and why boys AND girls need and deserve the right to play.

    These are just 2 games among the many that were successful in widening perspective and harnessing the encouragement to ‘fight for your rights’. We covered a lot of ground this week with the help of our dedicated partners from Childreach. They were engaged every step of the way, showing their passion not just for the program but also for life. They were eager to share bits of their culture with us, and it was such a joy to experience the great stories, meals, and music with our new friends. Nepal is truly a special place with people as beautiful as its countryside, and I can’t wait for the chance to come back.

    It’s been an incredible ride with CAC– working together across India and Nepal in pursuit of social change. This opportunity has been a privilege that’s brought so many amazing people and so much value into my life, all in just a matter of weeks. Thank you CAC for this life-altering experience.

  • Self-Directed Cooking

    December 8, 2014. Volunteer, Ali Pleiman, writes about her 4th program with CAC in Bengaluru – our second week working with Magic Bus On-Field in India.

    I’m not a chef but when I “cook,” these are the usual steps:

    1. Search kitchen for ingredients (whatever looks good/hasn’t expired)
    2. Throw it all in a big pot on the stove
    3. Voila! Let it stew and hope for the best.

    Yes, there’s a level of risk in not knowing beforehand how certain flavors or quantities will mix together. What if it’s a disaster? More importantly, why am I talking about cooking? I wanted to bridge this connection because this week felt like one of my cooking experiments…

    Our participants traveled far and wide across India to meet in Bangalore for a CAC training. Coming from 5 different cities, our 4-day session would bring together 3 organizations: Magic Bus, Dream A Dream, and Sparky Football. I’ll admit I was skeptical upon realizing that our melting pot would include multiple languages, cultures, and coaching styles. How would we be effective? Is it possible to find a balance with all the different spices?

    When making dinner, my main goal is obviously “don’t burn the food.” Similarly, everyone in the training could be aligned by a shared desire, “coaching for social impact!” I recognized this unifying element in the first morning, as this group of individuals was extremely bright and enthusiastic; their passion was a key ingredient that would see us through the week, making it possible for intrinsic differences to contribute strength rather than weakness. I was excited for this experience with so many great flavors coming into the mix, which would surely widen perspectives and benefit all parties involved.

    Of course, there were many challenges! We were fortunate to have some fantastic translators helping us to taste-test our progress along the way, so that we could adapt our strategies and discussions to better meet specific needs. Several coaches in the program were already familiar with the idea of using a game to highlight an underlying social message. As this is also the nature of CAC, I was amazed to see and understand that HOW you coach can make all the difference in the impact. When we introduced the CAC focus on “self-directed learning,” I was surprised that the majority of the participants interpreted this as a pretty foreign concept. I grew to realize that this week’s group was more accustomed to coaching towards one particular outcome, whereas the CAC view is geared more around the process.

    For instance, although participants brought many skills to the table, I found their coaching style to be very “by the book.” They were programmed to deliver a social message at the end of a game, in the same way that the rules were delivered at the start. CAC differs in their teachable moments by calling attention to the messages throughout the game; CAC will connect the dots as they evolve through play, instead of after the fact. Plus, learning is more fun when you don’t realize it’s even happening! Children will be more receptive to quick spurts during a fun game than to a long lecture at the end of playing.

    Moreover, CAC doesn’t force feed all the answers. In fact, CAC problem solving games are designed specifically to provoke conflict. This methodology was the most difficult to communicate to our group this week. We were met with opposition when we stepped back to say, “solve your problem.” We were encouraging but they were still frustrated when they couldn’t always be told a right or wrong scenario to enforce, wanting more clear-cut rules to clarify. That’s the point! In life, there is not always 1 correct answer. The beauty is in understanding that there can be many solutions to a problem.

    Coaches Across Continents strives to create coaches who are active facilitators rather than dictators– asking questions to help children along the way, but giving them the opportunity to think for themselves. CAC aims for coaches to engage the children throughout play and discussion, encouraging their interaction every step of the way. This group was also hesitant to accept this mentality, wondering what should happen if chaos ensues. Sometimes, let it be! Why not? Let the field be a safe space to practice handling conflict, without violence or retreat. A little chaos is okay. It may take a little longer for them to solve their problem but they can do it with guidance. If we just instruct them at every turn, then they will always be looking or waiting for instruction when they need to make their choice and act. Rather than breeding this dependency, CAC games have such a heavy focus on physical and mental skills that help on-field AND off-field. We seek to breed self-awareness, self-control, and confidence. In life, they may not always have the exact recipe laid out for them, or the help they thought they needed. Our job as coaches is to make sure they feel they have enough to work with.

    You can prepare as best as possible, but you always reach a point when it’s time to trust your skills and make your choice. Then you own the consequences, good and bad, and learn from them as you keep moving forward. That’s all anyone can do.

    We were lucky to have such an incredible group of participants this week, willing to face obstacles head on with smiles and open minds. We did some serious work but we had a blast while doing so. I will miss my new friends who shared their spirit, AND their dance moves. As always, I was pleasantly surprised to see how a crazy concoction could find a way to come together in the end and taste so good! This week quickly became my new favorite dish. So that’s why I like to cook this way, and I’m pretty sure the best chefs don’t always use precise measurements, so maybe my method is genius… Either way, the week solidified my belief that CAC is uniquely valuable in the work they’re doing around the world.

    “What keeps you going isn’t some fine destination but just the road you’re on and the fact that you know how to drive.” – Barbara Kingsolver



  • Déjà vu with Slum Soccer – In a New Place!

    November 25, 2014. Our partnership with Slum Soccer has been one that has shown how far our concept of self-directed learning can be taken through sport for social impact. Many of their Nagpur-based coaches have created their own curriculum games using soccer to teach about child rights, mathematics, and other subjects. This past week, we embarked on a new venture with Slum Soccer, working with them for the first time in Chennai (as well as Udumalpet) where they have recently expanded.

    When you think of Chennai, India – the first that comes to mind is not the ten-year anniversary of the tsunami that affected Indonesia in December 2004. However, the two beach slums on the eastern coast of India were hit hard by the tsunami causing deaths thousands of miles away from the epicenter of that deadly earthquake. The residents here still live in “temporary housing” a decade later, and the children are sons and daughters of fishermen, playing on trash-strewn beaches in their bare feet.

    This past week a group of over thirty hopeful coaches came together to learn how to use sport for social impact. They are hopeful coaches – because many of them are just entering their teenage years. The most impressive progress was seen in their coaching voices and their desire to teach the games correctly during our coach-backs. This is where they have to coach a CAC game they learned during the week back to the group. Many of them focused on teaching games like Ronaldo Skills, Mia Hamm Communication, and Marta Skills. In each instance the budding coaches were assertive in their communication and making sure to bring out the voices of the participants. This is the first step in giving children a “voice” to give them a “choice.”

    The next step is for them is to take on more leadership roles within Slum Soccer Chennai as assistant coaches. If they prove to be adept at their new assistant positions, they will grow into the first home-grown coaches for Slum Soccer Chennai. It is extremely refreshing to watch the first seeds of implementation and change germinate. In a few years, when the program reaches the same level of their parent organization in Nagpur, it will be rewarding to know that CAC was there for the growth at every stage.

    Learning skills with the new leaders of Slum Soccer in front of their homes on the beach

    Learning skills with the new leaders of Slum Soccer in front of their homes on the beach

    Leadership lines with Slum Soccer's new leaders

    Leadership lines with Slum Soccer’s new leaders

  • Loud and Proud

    November 12, 2014.  Volunteer Ali Pleiman speaks about her first week working with CAC at Naz Goal Mumbai.

    Caught in a whirlwind of bright colors and honking horns. Everywhere I look, I see people. The rich and the poor are intermixed with cats, dogs, cows, goats, trash, and beautiful trees. It seems like mayhem, but it’s not- it’s Mumbai! Somehow there’s this rhythm in which all things are living and moving together. All I can do is marvel at the organized chaos around me and try not to get run over. This indefinable energy didn’t slow down once we hit the field; it manifested in the smiling faces around me, showing enthusiasm every step of the way.

    This week we worked with Naz Goal, a netball organization in their third and final year of the Hat-Trick Initiative. They explained to us that “Naz” means “proud,” and after meeting these bright young women, I can see why the name is such a good fit. Of all the life skills we touched on this week, the one that stood out the most for this group was the power of using one’s voice.

    Although we were constantly in a state of play, sporadic interjections for reflection and discussion would highlight the real world significance for this skill, Off-Field as well as On-Field. With this element built into many of the games, I could see how their confidence rose with their voices and drastically improved their communication. They were ready for the challenge that is Year 3: “Create.”

    This strength shined through even more in the collaborative process as they were positioned to pick a problem and design a game from scratch. Everyone was engaged in the trial and error that followed, encouraged to solve their own problems when obstacles presented themselves. Female empowerment was a resounding theme that only intensified as time went on. As more and more girls were eager to voice their opinions and ideas, there were more opportunities to challenge the existing order of things and make the distinction between chance and choice in their culture- using your voice for your choice.

    It was truly amazing to watch the progression throughout the week. It became blatantly obvious just how much one’s self-esteem can contribute to the pursuit of a goal. This simple truth is so easy to forget and I was grateful that I could be reminded of its impact.

    I was so inspired and impressed that I often felt these girls were coaching me more than I was coaching them. This is truly a testament to how effective the CAC initiative is at work, establishing self-directed learners in this community. As this was my first volunteering experience, I lucked out that right off the bat I was able to see how the CAC program comes full circle.

    “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves” Steven Spielberg.


    It’s all smiles working in Mumbai

    Ali and Nora celebrating our partnership with Naz Goal

    Ali and Nora celebrating our partnership with Naz Goal