• Living Off The Land

    CAC volunteer Lea Hinnen blogged from Kumba, Cameroon and our partnership with Cameroon Football Development Program.

    July 20th 2016. Monday morning, 6am – Kumba, Cameroon: You might ask yourself why anyone would get up at 6am, if in reality they could sleep in until at least 6.45? Well, if you ask yourself that question, you clearly never had “Beignets”…

    Week four in Cameroon, we were located in Kumba, the base of our partner Cameroon Football Development Program (CFDP). While it was nice not having to translate everything from French to English anymore and being out of the dusty and busy city of Douala, we soon found ourselves with one small problem: There seemed to be no breakfast place open before we would get picked up at 7:15am for the session. No breakfast place except a little stand on the side of the road with a ‘Mama’ setting up her pots.

    As we sat down at the improvised table every morning watching the rooster march around and wake up the neighborhood, ‘Mama’ would scoop some sort of raw dough out of a bucket to then drop it into a pot of boiling oil. Round, light-brown doughy balls soon filled up the entire pot. A few minutes later, there they were: ‘Beignets’ – or ‘Pof Pofs’ – as they call them here. For non-French and non-Pigeon speakers, beignets are fried dough balls of to us unknown ingredients, which taste especially amazing when you add sugar or put a piece of dark chocolate on the inside to melt. You could almost compare them to Dunkin’ Donuts munchkins – just triple the size, double the taste and take them straight out of the vat…With the motto ‘eat when you can’ and their amazing taste, the number of beignets in the morning soon jumped from three to six.

    While beignets were adding on to our hips, our lunches made us feel less bad about it – especially at Ashu’s place. Ashu, who is also known as ‘the General’ and is in charge of finances for CFDP, lives in a beautiful compound with his whole family. Their house is surrounded by all sorts of plants, trees and crops from which his sister and mother prepared a big feast for us. From corn over yams to plantains, everything came straight out of his garden or their nearby farm. Even the chicken and milk were probably straight out of his yard: As we see only two or three chickens, he tells us he has well over 30, including a bunch of roosters.

    On top of that, a bunch of goats along with their kids would jump around and drive ‘Rocket’, one of Ashu’s four dogs, crazy. As cute and innocent as all of these animals looked, the General thinks differently: He says that they would mercilessly make sure that he is up and wide awake every morning around the same time as we would be sitting down to have our beignets. My take on solving this problem? I think he should have himself some beignets ready when the noisy chaos of chickens, roosters, dogs and goats commences at 6am…


  • A New Style of Learning

    CAC volunteer Cameron Hardington, student at Amherst College, blogs about his first week in Cameroon with Breaking Ground. This program is part of our great partnership with the Games 4 Good Foundation, who we thank for all of their support.

    June 10th 2015. There are three passions that have categorized my early years: my passion for football, a desire to see and experience the world, and a love for people. It was these three qualities that inspired me to volunteer with CAC, so heading into Cameroon I was excited, but was also unsure what to expect. After a day and a half of plane flights, a night in Yaoundé, and an 8 hour bus ride we finally arrived in Dschang, the city that we would be working in this week.

    The first day of training brought many difficulties for me including nerves, culture shock, and the most obvious obstacle, the language barrier. Nora had told Rachel ( the other volunteer) and me before the session that we would not be coaching that much this week as neither of us could speak French, but that we could hop in on games and do demonstrations. Not being able to speak or understand the language turned out to be one of the best blessings for me. I was able to see and understand the games through visual cues and was able to gauge what the coaches thought of the game by their laughs, smiles, energy, or the odd confused face here and there. Most of the time it was hard for me to follow what they were talking about in their discussions but I was able to catch the gist of it by their passion, expressions, and hand motions.

    This group definitely had a passion for female empowerment and gender equity. It was obvious to see that during these games there were smiles and laughter on the faces of both men and women, but they were also extremely intentional and serious when we got down to talking about issues and how gender issues can be resolved. The most brilliant example of how highly they valued gender equity happened during a game called Marta for Gender Equity. The basic rules are that there are two teams and half the team is sitting out on the sideline while the other half plays. It’s a regular game of football, except when a team scores, they run over to the sideline and pick a player who is sitting out and say a good choice for empowerment such as “education” or “exercise” and the new player comes in to play giving a numbers advantage to the team that scores. It was near the end of the game, and neither team had been able to score, and then finally a team scored. Nora then yelled, “Choose three players to come in!” The young boy who scored ran straight over to where his two best friends were sitting and went to the first, grabbed him and said a good choice and he was in the game. He then went to his other best friend, reached down to grab his hand, then hesitated and you could see him think, and then he proceeded to pull his hand away and grab two of the women’s hands who then came in to play. This boy’s action was a perfect sample of this group’s attitude. They are passionate, courageous, and most importantly they are not afraid to adapt a game to show a different lesson than the one that Nora had intended.

    I have a great hope and expectation for this group in the future. From the first day, it was evident that they were very open and eager to share issues that they faced in their community as well as possible solutions to the problem. I think that the most valuable asset that this team has is their willingness to listen to other’s ideas and feed off them to form new ones. This characteristic that they share collectively has the capability to make real change within the community, and I look forward to seeing where it takes them.

    This week taught me one of the only things I value higher than learning which is a new way to learn. I have never been in a situation where I have had to rely on some type of communication other than speaking for 5 days straight. My French got better as the week wore on, but I learned through the games that we played, and the expressions that the coaches had on their faces rather than Nora’s translations or explanations of how to play each game. Starting in a community where I didn’t speak the language has prepared me greatly for the upcoming week in Kumba where I will get the opportunity to coach a few games.


  • Thinking Outside the Box

    June 5th 2015. CAC volunteer Rachel Bloznalis blogs about her first ever African experience in Cameroon.

    Thanks to the Games 4 Good Foundation for making our partnership with Breaking Ground in Cameroon possible.  Their support is allowing our Breaking Ground programs to run effectively and bring about social change and local community development through soccer.

    What did I expect at the beginning of the week?

    After 24 hours of flights and a 14-hour overnight train ride, I had no idea what to expect from my CAC experience when I first arrived in Ngaoundere, Cameroon. This marked many firsts for me—my first time in Africa, my first CAC program, my first overnight train, my first time “speaking” French, and my first hole-in-the-ground-toilet,  to name just a few! I was excited for the experiences to come, but I was also nervous facing the unknown. Ngaoundere, I learned quickly, is a mostly conservative Muslim village—a culture and religion with which I am not very familiar. The men wearing traditional African Muslim robes stared at Nora and me and occasionally someone would call out, “nassara”, or “white person”. The insecurity I felt walking around the village, being one of the only women not wearing traditional Muslim dress and headpiece,  disappeared when I walked through the chain-locked entranceway to the Estade Ndoumoa—our safe place for the week. Inside the stadium was a clay-dirt field with two thin metal pole goalposts. The field was always filled with people—young and old, Muslim and Christian, male and female, white and black. What we all had in common was that we LOVE soccer.

    What on-field game had the biggest impact?

    Breaking Ground, this week’s partner program, has a strong focus on female empowerment. The program’s goal is to give women the confidence and the means to become successful and important leaders economically and socially in their Cameroonian communities. CAC’s new ASK for Choice curriculum is used to coach female empowerment. The games that we played created a lot of important discussions for this group. One game initiated a discussion about women having a choice. The simple game (called Brazil for Choice) divided the group into two teams: Team 1 was given only one goal to score on, whereas team 2 had two goals as well as the option of performing skills to earn extra points. It was clear that the team with multiple options was more successful. This initiated a discussion about the importance of having choices in life. The players explained to us that the culture in Ngaoundere is based on the traditional belief that women stay home and that men work.  They emphasized that it had always been this way. Most agreed that women in Ngaoundere society do not have many choices socially or economically. Since Nora and I were athletic, educated, female soccer players, we were not “really women” according to their cultural norms.  We explained that while women in our American culture still face many struggles, we have many choices. If we want to stay home and cook and clean and raise children, we can. If we want to play sports and make a living as an athlete, we can. If we want to start a business, we can. We all came to understand that there is no absolute right or wrong and that all cultures face problems, but that having choices empowers people. Choice increases a person’s options and provides more opportunities for success.

    Where could I see or feel a direct impact from CAC?

    This was CAC’s second year working with Breaking Ground, but many of the coaches participating this year were new. The group was composed of about 30 local coaches, educators, and young girls on the Breaking Ground football team. They were shy and quiet at first while we introduced ourselves, but as soon as we started playing, personalities emerged and soon everyone was laughing with us (and at us)! The Ngaoundere coaches seemed eager to learn and hear what we had to say. Nora, myself, and the Breaking Ground directors, Paul and Etienne, had an interesting discussion after the first session about how the culture in Ngaoundere was deeply established around their strict religion and traditions.  They felt that these traditions kept them thinking “inside the box”. Throughout the week, they described to us problems they had observed in their community. During the course of the week, with our assistance with sport for social impact, some of the coaches started to be able to think “outside the box”. They realized there could be multiple solutions to some of the problems that they saw everyday. Our local coaches started to appreciate the importance and power of having a choice. I could see the direct impact of our teaching increasing throughout the week.  Certain leaders began to step up in games, proposing ideas and initiating discussions about possible solutions that no one else had considered. As more and more coaches become comfortable thinking “outside the box” in Ngaoundere, I believe they will be able to better identify, address and solve the problems they face in their community.

    What has been the most challenging part?

    Not being able to speak French or a native language here in Cameroon has been very challenging! I am eager to learn and find myself quickly picking up short phrases and words and “speaking football”. Maybe by the end of the trip I will be able to get by as a “novice” French speaker!

    Where do I find the most comfort?

    On the field! Anytime we gather on a field with a soccer ball and a group of motivated players, I feel more at home.  Our shared love of soccer lessens any cultural, religious, and language barriers we face off the field. The mutual understanding that we love to play the same game and share the same goals (literally and figuratively!) is a great comfort as I face this new experience. Good coffee and Internet access are also very comforting!

    Where did we stay and what did we eat?

    Breaking Ground set us up with a home-stay for the week, so we got to experience real Ngaoundere village life. The family that took care of us was very nice and welcoming and the five kids were great entertainment; I loved reading, drawing, or playing ball with them! During the week, extended family and neighbors came in and out of the house, really making us feel welcome. I even got to celebrate my 20th birthday with them—one that I definitely won’t forget! We ate a lot of the staple foods like eggs, couscous de maize, plantains, cassava root, meat and lots of mangos! One day Nora and I excitedly thought we were buying already peeled fresh mango from a woman on the street, but we found out later it definitely was not mango! We still don’t know what it is, but we gave it to our host family as a gift and they appreciated it. Experiencing life with our host family for our week in Ngaoundere was memorable and they definitely made it difficult to leave.

    What was something that surprised me?

    Every night at 8 pm, the family that we stayed with would gather around and watch a translated Spanish soap opera. They loved it and watched it religiously, which was surprising to me because the messages and culture in the soap opera were pretty much the opposite of their religion and culture. It was surprising to me to see the outside influence of technology and western culture.

    What was my favorite part so far?

    I love playing with kids! The fact that they love to play with me makes it one of my favorite things to do. Playing soccer (even though some of the ten year olds are better than me) or just throwing a ball of string back and forth always makes me happy. I love how easy and simple it is to please them and make them smile and laugh. It also helps that they don’t care that I don’t speak French. One of my favorite parts was when the younger girls in our host family taught me French from their schoolbooks and I helped them with their English homework. A close second is that it is mango season in Cameroon!


  • Peace in the DRC

    August 4th 2014. CAC volunteer Jamie Wheaton blogs from Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo.

    My team was welcomed with open arms as we crossed the border into the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The administrators of the Georges Malaika Foundation smoothed our transition across the border, which would have been difficult considering none of our team spoke any French, the official language of Congo. Over the next few weeks I would pick up some key phrases, most of which won’t help me if I have to speak French anywhere other than a soccer field. As we walked into our hotel, Sarah, the manager at the Kalebuka Football for Hope Center, gave us details for the week ahead of us. She, and the rest of the GMF team, were some of the most organized people I’ve worked with. They had every minute of our stay planned, even adjusting to unexpected surprises, like a trip to a neighboring farm or a detour so my peer could braid her hair (a decision we all regret). I was truly impressed by the coordination of the foundation all week.

    This week had a different tone for me than any of the previous ones. For a start, there were over 65 people there, more than twice the amount I had worked with previously. While it was encouraging that Coaches Across Continents was reaching this many people, it made it harder to connect to the coaches on a personal level (the language barrier didn’t help either). While some characters stood out (a man who insisted on being called “Strong Man” is one) overall I didn’t feel as personally connected to some of the coaches who worked in the morning.

    The afternoons were a different story: working with a small group of around 15 people we worked with the GMF employees to address specific problems in the society. Even though everything took twice as a long with a translator, we were still able to help them come up with possible solutions for child abuse, and child rights. The passion displayed in that room for the children in their community was very moving.

    One thing that was unique about the program in Lubumbashi was that we tested out Peace Day games. International Peace day is scheduled for September 21st, and Coaches Across Continents will be supporting the cause by providing Peace Day games to communities in over 130 countries! Lubumbashi was our guinea pig for these games, and they were a big success. What to Do When Faced With a Problem and Understanding Violence were big crowd pleasers. Peace Day is  a UN sponsored international holiday, and will be celebrated all around the world. Whats more, this year DRC will be the main focus country for Peace Day with many events promoting non-violence.

    Overall, the GMF foundation impressed me with the care and commitment they’ve shown to promoting child’s rights. There dedication to the children in their area was incredible, and made my experience in Lubumbashi one of the most memorable of my whole trip.