Epiphanies in Kigoma
December 11th 2016. CAC Global Citizen writes about our work in Kigoma, Tanzania with Kigoma Municipal Council on their Connor Sport Court.
Kigoma was the site of the first-ever Coaches Across Continents program, in 2008. It is a town of about 200,000 on the shores of Lake Tanganyika on the western border of Tanzania. Fortunately, the airport is serviced four times each week by flights from Dar Es Salaam – which saved us a draining two-day bus or train trip last weekend. Its lush green hillsides and the proximity of the second-deepest lake in the world provided a pleasant change of scenery from the dusty plains that have defined so much of our time in this country.
Though it could certainly have just been the small sample of the community that we had, the relative isolation of Kigoma seems to have shaped the social climate there. When we arrived on Monday, Emily and I were immediately swarmed by throngs of schoolchildren who cheerfully called to us Mzungu! Mzungu!;(which means “white person”) and stared at us in awe and with innocent curiosity – something we had not experienced to such an extreme anywhere else in Tanzania. After the participants asked the children to clear from the Sport Court so we could begin the program, a few remained, and one of our participants (a schoolteacher), frustrated at these few who had not obeyed previous commands, ran towards them and swung a full kick at them so that they scrambled out of his way and off the court – just as he had intended. Out of the 44 participants in the week’s program, just five were women – a more steeply imbalanced ratio than anywhere else on this trip. Early in our session that morning, many participants named witchcraft as one of the things they most wanted to change about Kigoma, a phenomenon not even mentioned once in our other programs the past few weeks. Observing all of this on Monday, I sensed that Kigoma was still fixed to traditions that some other Tanzanian communities have begun to reconsider and reshape, and the idea of our CAC program raising questions about these practices already seemed daunting. In many ways, our work in Kigoma appeared to be an uphill battle.
Fortunately, throughout the week there were encouraging signs that some of this could change. In several separate conversations, participants discussed the need to change some harmful traditions (like the normalization of physically abusing children) and how they, holding leadership roles as teachers and coaches, could play a role in driving such changes in their communities. Our program and the games we selected opened the floor for these types of debates, and it felt productive to hear so many people discuss what traditions to change and how to do it, large group conversations which don’t seem to very commonly arise on their own.
There was one moment though that offered the strongest confirmation of the effect of our curriculum. Midweek, we closed our session by playing India for Choice, a tag game that first creates scenarios of child abuse (regular tag), and then shows how individuals in the community can protect children from abuse (blocking taggers by using the ball). Finally, we designate zones on the field were players can’t be tagged, and the group labels zones as real world places where children ought to be safe from abuse (school and home, etc.). As the game ended and players migrated off the court after our ensuing conversation about child abuse, one teacher stood behind, drop-jawed. With awestruck eyes, he approached us coaches: “That…that…was awesome. Wow.” He was blown away at seeing how a simple field game can be a powerful metaphor for a social topic. Emily and I lit up; what a strong sign that what we’ve invested so much time and energy in has begun to catch on! Witnessing his epiphany was encouraging and inspiring because I know that at least one teacher came away from our program with new ideas about how to discuss touchy topics like abuse with his children and his peers. Even if he had been the only one of our participants to see the potential of using sports for social change (and I’m sure he wasn’t), no step is too small toward allowing a community to reconsider the impacts of some long-held traditions.