• A Hopeful Transition

    August 7th 2014. CAC volunteer Layla Joudeh blogs about her CAC experience in southern Africa and returning home.
    7 weeks later and I’m sitting at home in South Carolina. I never thought this day would come. And by the end of the trip, I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted my time with CAC to end. Back in the USA, a different life awaits- college, friends, and family. I think part of my hesitation towards my time ending was the fear of adapting to a Western life again. 7 weeks ago I was focused on transitioning from busy college student in New England to soccer coach in southern Africa. Now my focus is on adapting back to school with all the experiences I gained from CAC. The last few days in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo were a great way to end my trip but did make leaving a little more difficult.
    After partnering with the Georges Malaika Foundation (GMF) and the FIFA Football for Hope Center in the previous week, we had the opportunity to work with GMF’s school. We played games with GMF’s students, teachers, and parents. The Monday with the students was one of my favorite days of the entire seven weeks in southern Africa. All of GMF’s students are young females, so we worked with about 60 girls that were 4, 5, and 9 years old. When we first pulled into the school, the younger students greeted us with a welcome song. Charlie, Jamie, and I tried singing along, but we didn’t sound quite as good as the girls. We spent the rest of the day playing our games with the students. The girls were a little hesitant when we started Circle of Friends- our simple, fun warm up- but as soon as Charlie and Jamie showed off their dance moves as part of the warm up, the girls didn’t stop laughing and smiling. The students didn’t know English so our main forms of communication were silly faces, funny voices, kicking around the ball, and some cone balancing on our heads (see above picture). Anything that we did, the girls were eager to try. Needless to say, Jamie’s elephant impression was a hit. At the end of our break, there was a parade of elephants traversing the field. Playing with the kids was incredibly fun. After seven weeks of coaching, I’ve never had a dull moment with children. They are eager to the play the games and are easily entertained, which makes our jobs a lot more fun(ny).
    The following two days were spent working with teachers and parents of the students. When I first approached one of the moms, she berated me in a fairly motherly tone about how my shorts reminded her of underwear. Most of the parents we worked with dressed in the traditional patterned cloth dresses or skirts that came down to their ankles. I realized I was a little out of place in the group of mothers. But soon after we started playing games, everyone was having fun together. We had a pretty competitive group that absolutely loved handball games. The parents and teachers were strong, athletic, and didn’t like losing. On the last day, Charlie and I participated in a few games while we were coaching. We were having a blast, and I truly didn’t want the day to end. For our last game, we brought the students, parents, and teachers on the field for a round of scary soccer- a fun adaptation of rock, paper, scissors. The girls were cheering and excited to play. The adults were getting more invested in the games as their students’ enthusiasm grew.  When a team won a round of scary soccer, the parents, teachers, and kids would all jump up and down and chant their team’s name. I watched from a far for one round of scary soccer and couldn’t help but smile and laugh about this awesome, fun, and funny experience. Different generations were working together and having fun because of a simple game. Sport gave different generations a medium to connect and learn together. That was one of my favorite parts about CAC- watching age and cultural barriers breaking down because of simple, fun games.
    As I try to get accustomed to life back in the United States, I can’t help but think of the people I had the opportunity to work with for the past seven weeks.They taught me that adapting to other cultures, people, and communities can be much easier once common ground was found. For the past seven weeks that common ground ranged from a dirt field, a school’s soccer field, a tennis court, and a FIFA Football for Hope Center. Maybe next time I need to adapt to a new group of people, environment, or job, I’ll ask my colleagues to find some grass or dirt to play on because that sure did teach me a lot this summer.
  • 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.


  • Panono Panono

    July 13th 2014. CAC coach Jamie Wheaton blogs on his first week coaching with CAC in Zambia.

    I blinked to clear my eyes of the sun as I stepped from the van that had carried us to the pitch. The words “Konkola Mine Police” emblazoned on the side had caused some confused glances as we traveled through the market place. Perhaps the locals thought we were new recruits. While the thought of playing in the Zambian league was an entertaining one, I found it hard to laugh due to the amount of butterflies in my stomach. I thought that I was prepared: I had read the field guide, reviewed the games that we would be teaching (if you count frantically checking through half-scribbled notes written 15 minutes before departure as “review”) and rehearsed in my mind possible questions that would be asked of me. I hoped I was fully prepared to be a productive member of a team, all of whom had more experience than me: thus began my first day as a coach.

    I needn’t have worried. My team members immediately went to work. After waiting the customary 45 minutes for an appropriate amount of people to arrive (the grace period we affectionately refer to as “Africa time”) we began with quick introductions and a brief description of what the following week would entail. Faced with a crowd of 30 or so adult coaches, some of whom had played at a professional level, I felt a moment of self doubt: who was I to teach them about social issues? Some of the men were twice my age! I quickly realized however, that I had much to teach them, and they to teach me.

    We worked with a great group: all of them were eager to learn, quick to laugh, and quick to focus again. While there was a brief language barrier, (particularly noticeable during the preliminary questions, where one coach would raise his or her hand and those in the area would immediately copy his example) this was quickly solved by having one of the coaches with more fluent English translate our more complex and lengthy lessons to Bemba, the local language. I learned some of the more basic phrases in Bemba, which might make for a good party trick later on. For example, I learned how to count to four (camo, tubide, tutatu, tune) how to say “slowly” (panono panono!) and “stop” (lakeni!). These phrases made themselves useful in the games we played that day. We started off with the basics, as this was a first year program. “Circle of friends” proved itself to be an excellent warm up, and always started off the day for the whole week. It was especially rewarding to watch the coaches come up with their own variations of the exercise towards the end of the week.

    While teaching the coaches our games in the morning was entertaining and interesting, my favorite part of the week was always in the afternoon. After taking a quick lunch break after the morning session (some sort of meat wrapped in a pastry, every day) we would head over to a local field and work with the children and watch their coaches use the skills we taught them that day. These sections really highlighted the difference between the community in Chililabombwe and at home.  In spite of the fact that they were playing on a bumpy pitch made of dirt and dust, the kids’ interest and excitement was contagious. While we introduced the older kids (14-17, usually) to the wonders of Circle of Friends and Ronaldo skills, a crowd of little ones would watch our every move. When I found the opportunity, I always tried to spend some time with them. Constantly giggling, the young children could be entertained for an hour simply by making different faces, or mimicking an animal. My single favorite moment of the entire week was taking requests of different animals to imitate: my repertoire quickly expanded to include monkeys, elephants, lions, warthogs, and snakes, which gave my teammate Layla quite the fright. I could stand there for hours keeping these kids laughing, and I would have too, if the bus hadn’t had to leave. However, there was also a side that was a little bit frightening: if they noticed something happening, they all surged towards us. Having 40 screaming kids storming towards you, all of them looking for a high five, would make anyone a little nervous. For the most part, they were content to laugh.

    Overall, the most impressive part of the week was seeing how much fun the kids had. Their infectious attitude of hope and excitement quickly spread to my teammates and I. In a town where 75% of the population ends up working in the local mine, the students were quick to tell us of their aspirations of becoming a doctor, or a professional footballer. They had us laughing at their crazy dances, which they all seemed to know. Most of all, they attacked all the new games with an enthusiasm that I had never seen before, which inspired me to stand up to their expectations of excellence.