• It’s Colombia not Columbia

    December 15th, 2017. Nora Dooley writes about delivering ASK for Choice programs in Colombia with Community Partner Inder Alcaldía de Medellín, alongside Corporate Partners Nike, Postobón, GIZ, and Groupo Internacional de Paz, to close out a strong year working across the country for the rights of women and girls.

    I treasure this moment of reflection. Four years after beginning my work with Coaches Across Continents, five years after graduating from Columbia University, I have spent more time in one country than any other: Colombia.

    Working with CAC as a facilitator necessitates humility and a unique acceptance of the unknown. With our intention to challenge international NGO culture that designs development programs based on foreign knowledge of best practices (which can also be called white supremacy/ neo-colonialism), we must enter each community assuming and imposing nothing. Our job is to provide some structure through fun, play-based activities that stimulate group discussion, self-directed learning and collective problem-solving, and to support our partners as they create legacies for the social changes they want to see.

    As little as I claim to know about this world, I can share some experiences – many of which I have enjoyed in Colombia with a faction of the large government organization, Inder Medellín.

    Colombia is complicated. And even knowing more people and more facts about this country than most others, my U.S.-raised brain cannot imagine the depths of this complexity. I feel so fortunate, therefore, to have various and continuous opportunities to share time and space with Colombians invested in their community’s future.

    Our work in Colombia throughout 2017 was bolstered by the social responsibility efforts of Nike and Postobón. This programming, centered on our ASK for Choice program which uses play to develop Attitudes, Skills and Knowledge to inform choices for women, men, and communities, caught some welcome attention. We spent a week north of Bogotá sharing with the GIZ sponsored program in collaboration with CAC partner, Grupo Internacional de Paz, and then returned to Medellín to learn more alongside humans I am lucky to call friends at Inder.

    During this training with representatives from Inder’s ‘Deporte, Convivencia y Paz’ and ‘Cultura D’ teams, we focused on gender, problem-solving, game adaptation and creation, challenging and transforming the cultures we want to change, and the vast possibilities available inside the lines of the sports field to address all that lives beyond it.

    I feel so grateful for CAC’s strong partnership with Inder, for my Paisa family, and for the experience (and wisdom?) to know – at least in my life – that it most definitely is Colombia, not Columbia.

     

  • Oh Yes, We Made a Plan!

    November 14th 2017. CAC Global Citizen and Harvard Alum Heather ‘Action’ Jackson blogs from Nagpur, India about our groundbreaking partnership with Slum Soccer

    I’ve been so lucky as a CAC Global Citizen in so many ways, including having the opportunity to work with longtime partner Slum Soccer here in Bokhara, Nagpur, India. As an outside observer, it struck me that the comfort, familiarity and understanding that CAC and SS have developed together over 8 years, as people and as organizations, created an environment of trust and openness that allowed for real progress to be made this week.

    A common phrase you’ll hear whenever a decision needs to be made is “We make a plan.” This applies to almost any decision that I saw made this week incl: when to leave for Shakti Girls (Girl Power) practice; where to go for delicious Southern Indian dosa and tea; who is going to drive/be a passenger on which motorcycle (all of which read below empty on fuel) and of course which direction to take and grow an organization. Often the decision can take some time; that’s what happens when you have a lot of bright people with different ideas, and/or a lot of bikes and passengers to organize.

    And many plans were made, executed and/or in progress. Highlights include:

    Serious strides in professional and organizational development for Slum Soccer using CAC’s process consultancy framework. It’s not often easy to take the “right” next steps to grow and mature as an organization; the insight and knowledge CAC leaders provided this regard was invaluable and those next steps put into place.

    Development by senior female staff of 3 brand new games for Slum Soccer’s female health & wellness initiative, focusing specifically on menstruation. It was amazing to see the girls open up, voice frustration with, and ask about the verity of, cultural traditions and listen to the SS senior staff support, educate and inform them. You know it’s working and trust exists when the day’s program is ended, and 15 girls are circled around still asking questions and getting answers.

    42 games played with 35 coach/mentor participants, including those designed to address HIV, LGBT, Child Rights and ASK for Choice (Female Empowerment.) It’s truly rewarding to see those girls too shy at the beginning of the week to say anything or even look up from the ground, raising their arms up and shouting “I am strong” or “I have a voice” by the end of the week. Yes change can happen in 5 days.

    An amazing street food tour (once we figured out who was actually on which bike) led by senior SS staff. That “We make a plan” took some time to make following an outing to the cinema featuring Thor, my first Hindi 3D movie, but was so worth it. Thank you Slum Soccer friends and family!

  • Beautiful On The Inside And Out

    November 6th 2017. CAC Global Citizen and Harvard alum Heather ‘Action’ Jackson writes about her first CAC experience with YFC Rurka Kalan in Punjab, India.

    This is my first trip with Coaches Across Continents and the first week has already delivered as promised; thought provoking, inspiring, fulfilling, rewarding, fun, and full of firsts for me, the CAC team and the YFC Rurka Kalan partner participants. On the list of firsts, CAC & YFC announced a formal ASK for Choice partnership addressing gender equity, YFC hosted the first Workshop on Community Gender Policy in the community, and the coach mentors designed their own games to bring this policy to life. I also survived my first of many harrowing Indian driving escapades (apparently rules of the road and licenses are optional) realized for the first time just how important tea time is to all and also how the Punjabi are amazingly hospitable, generous, enjoyable and funny- talk about a quick wit.

    The YFC/CAC Workshop on Community Gender Policy was led by Judith Gates who did an amazing job addressing and engaging women and men from the local community. It was particularly inspiring to watch the YFC mentor coaches lead the breakout groups and encourage participants who would not normally speak out, to do so. An eye-opening first: one of the male attendees commented to CAC leader Charlie Crawford that he had never seen a female speak “like that” i.e. with a strong voice at a public gathering.

    On the field, we played 36 games over 5 days with a specific focus on the ASK for Choice curriculum that addresses gender equity and girls’ and womens’ rights. On a personal note, while this was something important to me from the get go, it became even more urgent as a goal based upon my first hand experience. Long story short: it’s not always awesome being a girl in India.

    Highlights on and off the field include:

    1. The success of the game Indonesia for Attitudes which addresses language and stereotypes. End result: girls voicing “I am strong!” and voicing “I am beautiful on the inside and the outside.
    2. In the words of one of the full time program coaches as we watched Scary Soccer, “All these coach mentors, and especially the girls, have become more expressive; compared to even the beginning of this week with CAC you can see they now want to take the lead and actively participate in the games and discussions. You can hear their voices right now.”
    3. The sense of community among the coach mentors and staff at YFC – including sing alongs after session, the dance off post awarding of certificates, selfies at tea time, and so, so many laughs.
    4. The post week visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest Sikh temple, with Charlie from CAC and Pradeep from Naz Foundation. A must see if you make it to the area; busy yet tranquil at the same time and amazingly beautiful at night all lit up.

    I look forward to following the progress and expansion of YFC Rurka Kalan in partnership with CAC and to all my new friends at YFC: stay strong and beautiful, on the inside and the outside!

    – Cheers, Action

  • New Eyes on Ireland

    October 25th 2017. Nora Dooley, CAC Gender Strategist, writes about the launch of our ASK for Choice partnership with Sports Against Racism Ireland (SARI).

    I first visited Ireland while studying abroad in Dublin during college. I lived there for 5 months, went to class, traveled and spent time with extended family members – a heritage that affords me the privilege of having dual citizenship. Returning to this country that so honors my existence as to dub me ‘citizen’, I welcome reflections on what that word – that claim – means.

    With CAC we have the unique opportunity to learn about communities through the eyes of people who live there – citizens. And in my experience our partners amplify the meaning of this legal or informal identifier. It is not enough for the CAC global community to simply live in a space, to exist, to benefit or endure. Citizens of CAC partner communities are people who engage, ask difficult questions, take personal and collective responsibility and hold themselves and each other accountable for the day-to-day, year-to-year realities – in all their beauty and complexity.

    Our new partnership in Dublin added layers to my understanding of Irish citizenship, just as my presence in Ireland as a CAC representative provoked fresh gratitude for the chance to hold this space. With SARI leaders we shared our ASK for Choice curriculum which stimulated conversations around existing inequalities and created opportunities to strategize on and off the pitch around solutions to translate ideas and policies into practice.

    The SARI team welcomed me into their community. They are Irish – and they are also Nigerian, Jordanian, Saudi Arabian, Zimbabwean, Kenyan, Indian, Congolese, Brazilian… and many more. They dwell in Dublin, they build inclusive spaces and they celebrate and thrive on diversity.

    This is not the Dublin I experienced as a naive US American stumbling around a country I thought I had a claim to. I am grateful for my second passport, and because of SARI I feel closer than ever to understanding and truly appreciating what it means to be Irish; and because of all CAC partners, closer to realizing the potential of citizenship anywhere (legal or not!).

  • Tbilisi – City of Culture, Poets and Passionate Coaches

    September 18th 2017. CAC Community Impact Coach Lorik Hartoun, from our partners GOALS Armenia, discusses her experiences during our work with Georgia Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs in Tbilisi. We want to thank the Games 4 Good Foundation for supporting Lorik’s trip to Georgia. 

    Almost every Armenian poet, author and intellectual has studied and been educated in Tbilisi in the 19th century and earlier. I have always wanted to visit this city and feel the culture and passion hidden within. I was lucky enough to be able to travel with Coaches Across Continents as a Community Impact Coach (CIC).

    As we were on our journey from Yerevan-Armenia to Tbilisi-Georgia, I had my list of places to visit and some information about the people and country. We entered the city and drove through the city center Avlabari, which is home to an Armenian community. We passed through cobbled streets and saw churches with different architectural styles. We also passed by Rustaveli street which was my favorite, because of its mixture of old stoned and column buildings and modern glass towers. Finally we reached our hotel.

    Our program was held and organized by the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs of Georgia. Almost 80 coaches representing 23 different disciplines registered for the program. It was very interesting to get to know people who are very similar to my ethnicity. Everything except the language was common and similar to Armenians. Even their comments, jokes, their love towards poets, culture and patriotism were similar.

    During the week-long seminar, I learned about the rules of different sports and exercises such as American Football, Frisbee, Baseball, Kudo, Judo and more. It was very inspiring to get to know female judo and other martial arts coaches. During the program we had a discussion about gender equality and their opinions towards it. It was a challenging topic and it was mostly the women who were aware of the positive consequences of implementing gender equality. I also learned that in Georgian the word for ‘mother’ is ‘Deda’, which means mother of Earth. The word for ‘father’ is ‘Mama’. It was very interesting to me that in Georgian the symbol of earth and empowerment is associated with the mother of the family.

    On the last day of the seminar we closed the program with a discussion about children’s rights and the characteristics of a good coach. I received positive feedback from the participants and they showed their willingness to attend the CAC seminar next year. I gained invaluable experience as a CIC during this program; I met coaches and made new friends and partners who would like to organize programs focusing on Female Empowerment. I want to thank CAC for giving me this opportunity.

    On the last night I had some very tasty Georgian wine, combined with lots of toasts and celebrations towards the connection of sport and peace. I want to make a toast towards this program of CAC and its growth and I hope it continues its efforts around the world. Puchka Puchka (Cheers in Georgian)!

  • When a Participant Breaks his Gender Role in Front of the Whole Group

    June 23rd 2017. What’s Not Said Founder Sarah Sedlack joined our recent program with Ndejje University in Ndejje, Uganda to deliver additional sessions to some of the group.

    Neck deep in a class discussion around male victims of rape and a participant raises his hand to speak.
    When it’s his turn, he begins to reveal an incredibly personal story about sexual issues in his own marriage.
    “My wife rapes me.” Certain members of the class, both women and men, giggle, some of them in
    disbelief. I then address the entire class, “we need to all be respectful and listen quietly. He is trusting us
    with something very personal and showing a lot of courage right now.” Then, talking directly to him I say,
    “if you feel comfortable, please continue.” He explains that his wife not only ignores him when he
    communicates that he doesn’t want to have sex, but laughs at him and proceeds to mount him anyway.

    Here we have a Ugandan man, showing emotion and expressing pain in front of other men and women in
    the community. Specifically, this community was a product from our partnerships, with Ndejje University
    hosting the event, Coaches Across Continents (CAC) implementing their programs with Mark as the
    primary coordinator and coach, and What’s Not Said (WNS) with getting to hop on for a few days and
    provide supplementary training. The participants were passionate about playing soccer, coaching it, and promoting
    community leadership. Mark and I piggybacked on each other by referencing each other’s skill building
    exercises during our respective training sessions. For example, I facilitated discussion around consent and
    he created a game to illustrate how understanding is impaired without consent. For the sake of adding
    value and meaning to our discussion, this Ugandan man risked social rejection for the remainder of the
    training sessions on the field. Showing emotion not only goes against his gender norm as a man
    (expressing and communicating feelings and victim-hood in public), but it could be interpreted as a sign of
    weakness. I felt honored to witness this level of empowerment. Both as a sex educator of What’s Not Said
    and as a person in the world, I see the positive impacts being vulnerable can have in our relationships and
    communities, especially as a man in a society where men hold overt, systemic privilege and power.

    Showing vulnerability happened both on the field and off the field. Off the field, trainees showed humility
    and emotions and on the field trainees enthusiastically participated in games designed for children, which at
    times meant acting like a frog and chanting silly sounds in front of everyone. Off the field, the
    vulnerability allowed the conversation to organically move in directions I would have only dreamed of
    going. For the first time in What’s Not Said history, we were discussing the importance of sexual
    negotiation in relationships and marriages and the need for teaching about pleasure in conversations around
    consent and sexual assault prevention. And let me remind you, this all happened at a University in Uganda.

    I was warned by everyone, from Kenyans to westerners, to be careful and perhaps censor what I talked about, in Uganda. Uganda is known for being a bit more closed when it comes to sexuality, much of these attitudes being based on current laws (for example, homosexuality is illegal). And I have to admit that made me a bit nervous. But through my vulnerability and the vulnerability of our partners, remaining shame free about my work, active listening and keeping the discussions participant-focused, Uganda surprised me for the better.

    My name is Sarah Sedlack and I am founder of a culturally adaptive, comprehensive sex education program
    called What’s Not Said (www.whatsnotsaid.org). I discovered CAC through networking in Kenya and
    immediately developed both a mentoring and professional relationship with the organization. That relationship brought me to a CAC partnership in Uganda, where I facilitated discussions on Ugandan current events and taboo topics with community leaders from all over Uganda. The intentions of the forums were to empower more responsible community leadership, teaching skills in developing self awareness and empathy. These very skills were practiced in sport as part of CAC on-field games and reviews.

    This class goes down as one of the most memorable sessions because the participants were willing to explore
    openly together, which made it easier for all of us to learn from each other. A 39 year old male participant
    reveals what he thought was most meaningful about the forum, “WNS gave us the confidence to be free to
    be who we are and create new friendships among other participants.” As for myself, I feel thankful I got
    this opportunity to explore Uganda in such an intimate way, both on and off the field. I deeply respect the
    conversations shared and look forward to more to come.

    Until next time!
    ~Sarah