• Wind Of Change

    June 20th 2016. CAC SDL Coach Markus Bensch opens up on his background and the nature of global change.

    I was born in 1985 in a dictatorship. When I was four years old, people started to go onto the streets and demonstrated against the regime demanding free elections, freedom of speech and movement. On Nov 9, 1989 the wall between East and West Berlin fell and Germany’s re-unification process started. When I was five Germany was a united nation and my country of birth, German Democratic Republic (GDR), didn’t exist anymore.

    Without the effort and bravery of men and women who no longer accepted the situation they were living in, I am not sure I would be able to do the work I do today. My three oldest brothers were 19, 18 and 17 when they were able to travel for the first time in their lives to Munich, Frankfurt or Hamburg, France or England; to the “West” as people were saying in those days. My parents were 49 and 40 when the wall came down. They lived the majority of their lives in a country that didn’t allow them to say what they thought and to travel wherever they wanted. I was too young back then. I don’t consciously remember the re-unification, but my body and my heart have captured these moments, the emotions and the “Wind of Change” for the rest of my life!

    26 years later: A couple of weeks ago I watched a German program where they show cases of crime which they want to detect and with short films they ask the general public for help. They showed one case where a Muslim woman who lived in Germany, divorced from her husband, lost in court the care-right for the one girl-child that she was taking care of. The two boys that she had with her ex-husband where already living with him. On top of that the husband’s family gave her 6 months to also return the dowry (gold jewelry) which she wasn’t willing to do. After exactly 6 months some instructed men from the ex-husband’s family came to her home and simply killed her. To date nobody knows where her body is.

    This story made me angry and fearful. I thought: Now some Islamic based traditions have even come to Germany and undermined our freedom and judicial system. But then I realized that this case made me particularly angry and fearful, because it happened in Germany. At the same time I realized that this happens every day around the world to thousands of women. Why do I feel worse when that happens in Germany than if it happens in Iran or Syria? In this moment something slightly shifted in me. In future I hope I can feel the same pain and discomfort if somebody gets harmed, no matter in which part of the world it happens or which nationality the person has.

    I imagine 30 years from now, in two generations, I might get asked the following questions: There was this country where women suffered from Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)!? There was this tradition where women got married as they were still children!? There were people who expressed their opinion and got killed!? There was a country where every 17 seconds a woman got raped (South Africa)!? What did you do about that? How did you feel when you heard about that?

    I want to respond by saying: It made me sad and it made me angry. But most importantly I didn’t want to accept it and I was able to work for an organization called Coaches Across Continents which gave me the opportunity to go to these communities and listen to the stories of women who have experienced FGM or who have been raped or who survived a genocide. But I also got the chance to address these issues and work with local people who wanted to bring change to their community and end harmful traditional, religious and cultural practices. And I am happy to see that you young people don’t need to live in this fear today. I am happy that you have the freedom that you can wear, say, do and go wherever and whatever you want as long as you respect the freedom of your neighbor!

    I am very grateful to my colleagues, our volunteers, and the incredible participants that I was able to work with for being such wonderful people. I love working with you for peace and a liberating future! Thank you!

    IMG_0711

  • An Inspiring Week On The Importance Of Female Empowerment

    Community Impact Coach David Mulo of Vijana Amani Pamoja and Green-Kenya in Nairobi, travels with CAC to our program in Northern Kenya with Horn of Africa Development Initiative (HODI).

    25th May 2015.  At 1:45am on Monday the 11th of May I get a call: “Good morning David, Could you please talk to the taxi driver and give him directions to your place so that we can pick you up?” I heard a calm and persuasive voice from the other end of the line. It was Markus, one of the coaches from Coaches Across Continents that I was supposed to travel to Marsabit with. And I don’t want to forget the big man Turner, or “Hooch” as he would like to be called on the field.

    We reached the bus station at 2am, the bus was supposed to leave at 2:30 “Western time”. The word “Western time” is vivid in my mind because when I told Markus that we are going to travel at 2:30am, his first comment was, “I hope it is Western Time”. At the bus station, we met a skinny guy with dark and protruding eyes. He was a Somali youth. I think the reason for his eyes was because he was munching “Mirra” (a local drug that has a stimulating effect) the whole night.

    Our journey of 550km to the north of Kenya felt to me like it was two times longer. I kept on wondering “Where is this place called Marsabit?”. After just a kilometer loud, consistent music started to play and a man sang in Arabic for the next 150 kilometers. The speaker was just next to my head so there was no way I could take a nap. I thought the music signified that I am going to another county and I have to tune my mind. At some point the music begun to sound like a lullaby and the next time I woke up we were in Isiolo.

    Noon: We arrived in Marsabit, after a 10 hour journey. I was really exhausted. After I sorted out our luggage I saw this tall, dark skinned lady wearing a Bui Bui (a long black dress with a hijab covering her head as a symbol of her Muslim religion). With an infectious smile she was talking to Markus and Turnner and I was curious to find out about the discussion they had and who she was. “My name is Khula Dida. I work for Horn of Africa Development Initiative (HODI).” Khula took us to our Hotel which was just few yards away from the bus stop and promised that Noor (HODI’s program director) will come and meet us later at 8pm.

    I got into my room, took a shower and of course took a nap. Noor appeared at the promised time. He was a soft spoken young man with a small gap between his upper teeth who always maintained eye contact while talking to you. Later I found out through the coaches that people with a gap between their teeth are considered to be intelligent and handsome. The four of us had a nice chat as we tried to find out more about the community. We wanted to know which social issues they were facing, the number of participants we expect, what was the best time to start the training and many more. I realized that through all these questions Markus laid the basis for a successful training.

    During our discussion two social issues caught my attention: Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early marriage. These in-humane acts are some of the deep rooted cultural practices in many communities around Marsabit. “Many young girls go through the cut while they are still young and then they get married without their consent. I think many of my friends if not all have gone through it.” said Khula, the woman that welcomed us at the bus stop when we arrived. She had now become my source of information and she spoke very openly about the practice of FGM not wanting it to happen to her own daughter.

    On the first day of our training we met these beautiful young girls who were covered from their head to at their feet. They greeted us with a lot of happiness, perhaps with the quest and knowledge to tackle gender norms. I was surprised that more women than men turned up for the training in this male dominated community.

    As we were going through CAC’s games with the participants many things were going through my mind as a result of the meeting that we had with Noor the day before. I was surprised that I didn’t see Turner and Markus showing a sign of disbelief. Maybe because they have heard and seen many of these stories after working with CAC. After some games we had to take a rest because the heat was unbearable. We ate bananas and quenched our thirst with cold water that was being provided by HODI. At the end of each session we reviewed the games and their social impact.

    I realized there is a huge gap between the males and females in Marsabit County. As we were walking back to our hotel I saw male coaches from the group we trained walking in a group ten yards away from their female counterparts. I wanted to know the reason why and so I asked one of the coaches. “A girl or a woman is not supposed to walk with a man if they are not married otherwise the woman will be considered to be a prostitute or loose” said Amina, who seemed to be annoyed about the whole story. I could read that from her facial expression.

    On Saturday after completing the Child’s Rights discussion I decided that I want to do something for the girls when I get back to Nairobi. Even though the problem is not that big at home still many girls are going through horrendous moments. That happens in different parts of the World. Marsabit and Nairobi are just two examples. I will assemble the girls in my community and let them talk about the issues that they are facing and how they think we can tackle them. I want to let them have a voice to be heard.

    This idea would not have grown in my head if I did not get the chance to be a Community Impact coach (CIC). I would like to take this opportunity to thank Markus, Turnner, Nora, Brian and Nick and the whole CAC family for giving me this life changing opportunity. I am happy to be a part of CAC who are global leaders in Sports for Social Impact. I hope to meet with again with you somewhere else in the world just so we can continue to do our best with the little that we have.

    P1060810

  • Finding Beauty Through Soccer

    May 4th 2015. Some days it’s walking into the Indian ocean and watching the setting sun paint the sky different shades of the earth. Some days it’s swaying in a hammock on a mountaintop looking over the Caribbean as a flock of pelicans soar by in the wind. Some days it’s curling up in my big blonde furry friend and taking sloppy licks to the face in exchange for belly scratches and ear rubs. Some days it’s sharing a football juggle and a smile with a child because it’s the only language I can use to tell him he’s loved in this world. These moments of pure bliss in my life make the worlds problems disappear in the moment, but when my time is up… the harsh reality of the world we live is still very much there. The 14-year-old boy is still getting raped by his father. The 12-year-old girl is still trying to figure out how to live a normal life after living half of it as a sex slave. The 10-year-old child is still being forced into holding a gun. The 40-year-old woman is still getting blamed for her husband beating her. Massacres are still happening on school grounds. It is the nature of my job to face the ugly side of the world we live which has made me appreciate the beautiful moments even more.

    After 4 weeks on the field in Kenya and Uganda talking with adult coaches about the social issues they face in their communities, we walked onto a football pitch in Kitale, Kenya with a cluster of 80 boys and girls running around with footballs. This wasn’t a usual CAC week of training as our participants were no older than 17 years of age; the youngest being 9. The last time I worked with young leaders was in Cambodia about 8 months ago during my first volunteering program with CAC.

    Training young leaders is different than training adults. When the topic of drugs and alcohol, HIV/AIDS, child abuse, and early pregnancy come to the forefront, it’s clear that we are talking to the most vulnerable age group.

    I could tell there were stories hiding behind the blank staring faces when we arrived on Monday. Throughout the week I spoke with many of them- individually and in groups- casually and about more serious issues. They taught me Swahili and they asked me to teach them my national anthem, I tried but didn’t get very far. I told them my story and some of them told me theirs…I tried to relate in every way possible, even though we come from very different backgrounds; Even though FGM isn’t a common practice in my country and beastiality is a fairly new term to me; even though I was never hit with a stick for answering a question wrong in school, or was never married off to a man at age 13 in exchange for a few cows; and even though I was never told that a mans life was more valuable than a woman’s; I still tried to find ways to relate.

    Coming from outside of Kenya, it would be silly to act like I know what life is like here. I can imagine though, that growing up in Kenya is not easy for women and children. Abuse is more common here than not.

    Some of them opened up to me as the week went on- some found their voice on the field- some lit up with smiles everyday- others just simply participated and that was enough to reach them with the football.

    TYSA(Transznoia Youth Sports Academy) is the program we worked with this week. They are led by Gichuki, or otherwise known as Francis. He has committed over 30 years of his life to ensuring that children in his community can live happy lives. He realized his best tool to get children off the street and into schools was football, so he started his own youth academy. Boys and girls play together, children get scholarships to attend schools, and through the sport we all love, they are learning to become leaders in their community.

    It has taken great leadership to get to where TYSA is today. One of TYSA’s former students called OG says that Gichuki found him at a bad time in his life when he didn’t have much, and brought him into his academy to play for his team. OG, now in his late 20’s has grown up to become a coach at TYSA and will soon be running the organization with his fellow peers. Gichuki knows that his time is soon up with TYSA and It will surely be difficult for him to part with something so near and dear to his heart. But his vision from the beginning was to pass the leadership down to the next generation, who would then do the same when their time was up- a very thoughtful way to internally sustain the values and excellence demonstrated by passionate, committed people.

    Programs like TYSA, who believe in their young leaders and use football and games that we have taught them to give opportunity and a life to children beyond the streets, are changing lives for the better in Kenya and make this world a more beautiful place.

    My heart was heavy when I left Kenya on Friday because the friendships I made with the people of TYSA, from a small city just over the border of Uganda, was just what I needed to find beauty in this sometimes unexplainable world.

    2015-04-16 17.01.08

  • CAC & Soccer in the Sand Announce Partnership

    March 11th 2015. Coaches Across Continents (CAC), international non-profit organization, are delighted to announce a new partnership with Soccer in the Sand. Soccer in the Sand will be supporting CAC globally with a particular focus on CAC’s partnership with the Horn of Africa Development Initiative (HODI) in Northeastern Kenya which uses soccer to promote human rights with marginalized populations in the area. For instance, HODI aim to address female genital mutilation (FGM) in a region in which 98% of girls are victims, often before the age of 5. The CAC program with HODI uses soccer to give local leaders the capacity to challenge harmful traditions and cultures such as FGM and create an environment in which these practices are eliminated. CAC and Soccer in the Sand are giving you the opportunity to help address this topic by supporting the program through this link- https://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/CAC2015/SITScampaign.

    Alongside this, Soccer in the Sand will be donating $1 to this CAC program for every pair of socks sold at their beach soccer series tournaments across the US in 2015. So if you are attending a Soccer in the Sand tournament this year you will get another chance to create social change through the sport by purchasing soccer socks. By getting involved you are helping to address a dangerous practice which goes against the UN rights of the child and making a difference in communities in which FGM is most prevalent.

    About Coaches Across Continents

    Coaches Across Continents is a global leader in the sport for social impact movement. We partner with local organizations to implement our award-winning ‘Hat-Trick Initiative’ that focuses on local social issues such as: female empowerment, including gender equity; conflict resolution, including social inclusion; health and wellness, including HIV behavior change; and other life skills. Our key to success is a unique self-directed learning model that is based on our ‘Chance to Choice’ curriculum. In 2014, we worked in 26 countries with 74 implementing community partner programs. Overall, we educated 3,157 community coaches who impacted a further 280,396 young people.

    We have also won 11 awards in just five years including ‘Corporate of the Year’ at the 2014 Beyond Sport awards for our partnership with Chevrolet and their ‘What Do You #Playfor?’ campaign.

    For more information about the founder of HODI please look at this recent Boston Globe article.

    About Soccer in the Sand

    Soccer in the Sand is a series of amateur beach soccer tournaments held at beach locations in states throughout the United States. The tournaments feature local adult and child competitors organized into teams of seven to ten members, with five on field at any given time. The teams compete in one- or two-day tournaments, depending on location, with each team playing at least three games, and top teams advancing farther. The series was created in 2006

    For more information on Soccer in the Sand and their 2015 dates and locations please visit www.soccerinthesand.com.

    Kenya.KevinODonovan.3