• 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.
  • Three Cheers for Avocados

    July 27, 2014. CAC volunteer Layla Joudeh blogs on working in Zambia.  After walking into our hotel in Chingola, Zambia, I quickly learned that hotel doesn’t mean working toilets, sinks, or showers. Trying to use a water source in the hotel was like a fun game of “guess whether this bathroom appliance will work today” except our personal hygiene was at stake- so more like a smelly, not so fun guessing game. Fortunately for us and everyone within a 5 ft radius of us, our sink worked fairly regularly and the shower would come through at least every other day. And so began my fifth week in southern Africa.

    The work week began on a sunny Monday morning (shout out to the dry season for all this wonderful sunshine). Kebby and Able, our hosts from Malalo Sports, were in the taxi that picked us up from the hotel, and we were off to the soccer field. We worked with Kebby and his friend Able for the two weeks we were in northern Zambia. Kebby and Able were excited to have us working in their community and wanted us to feel at home. They arranged all our transportation, organized participants and venues, and paid attention to the details. And the small details they paid attention made all the difference for me. For one, they always made sure we were hydrated with sweet Zambian water. I mean who doesn’t like to have a steady supply of water while coaching? But Kebby and Able went beyond hydration- they actually were getting to know us on a personal level. There was one day during the week when I didn’t feel too well. I didn’t think much of it and planned to sleep it off the following night. I was carrying on a conversation with Kebby on that same day, and he stopped the conversation to ask if I was feeling alright. It was such a simple question that made me want to give Kebby a huge hug. After meeting so many different people in the past few weeks, it was unbelievably comforting to know that Kebby had taken the time to pay attention to the people with which he was working regardless of the number of participants he had to help organize.

    With partners like Kebby and Able looking out for us, it was much easier to focus on coaching. Working with Adam, Charlie, Jamie, and Tim is a whole lot of fun. There was a perfect balance of planning ahead and improvising, making fun of me and making fun of Adam, working together and giving each other the space to lead our own games. We bonded well which helped contribute to my comfort as a coach. Our teamwork on the field made my job a bit easier and more effective. I was more confident because of the three previous weeks of coaching, and I was more familiar with the CAC curriculum. Turns out- coaching is really fun when I actually had a solid grasp on what I was doing.

    You know what else is fun? Eating. Meal time was one of my favorite parts of the week. Adam, Charlie, Jamie, Tim, and I usually ate lunch and dinner together. We discovered that we had easy access to avocado or as Jamie calls it- nature’s butter. So lunch and often dinner consisted of avocado and cheese. Something as simple as an avocado made me look forward to lunch and sitting around a little table while cats watched us eat. We often ended up mentioning ice cream in our conversation. Our ice cream conversations led us to have an ice cream party on Thursday night. We bought a tub of ice cream and five spoons then gathered in Tim and Jamie’s room. I still can’t decide if the ice cream was good because we really wanted it to be good or because it was actually quality ice cream. Either way- huge thanks to ice cream for being awesome.

    Speaking of awesome….we even had good wifi in Chingola. In my last blog post, I was thanking my lack of wifi for helping me connect with my environment. However, five weeks of being away from home made wifi a sweet, sweet cure to the homesickness that was creeping in. Contrary to my first week with CAC, I used wifi to share my new experiences rather than stay connected to everything that was happening with friends and family back at home. This change in my internet usage was a subtle reminder that with time, I was becoming more and more comfortable with my environment. As my last blog post predicted (however doubtful I was when I wrote it)- the adventure with CAC has continued and I’ve learned a thing or two. For one- Jamie is right- avocados are nature’s butter. The second thing I’ve learned (because clearly I’ve only learned two things on this trip)- my fellow coaches and our partner programs can make me feel at home even when home is hours away.


  • Connection Not Found: Please Try Again

    June 25th 2014. Coaches Across Continents volunteer Layla Joudeh blogs on her experiences in Zimbabwe. 

    I tried one more time to muster up internet connection in the Johannesburg airport, but my thirty minutes of free wifi had run out. The rushed tapping on my phone while wifi time runs out is a feeling to which I have become accustomed. However, no quick typing or Facebook message would affect the next leg of my 30 hour journey from South Carolina to Zimbabwe. The CAC coaches were  excitedly (well…I can only hope) waiting for me in the Harare airport. In the coming week, we’d be partnering with Zimbabwe’s own Bulldogs Sports Development Trust to coach program participants in soccer for positive social impact. As I walked out of the Harare airport, I was excited, nervous, a little hungry, and ready for the adventure to come. But first- I had to send my family a text message to let them know I had arrived safely. Unsurprisingly my phone wasn’t connecting to any wifi, so I had to borrow another coach’s phone. The tale of being out of touch with my life back at home had begun.

    During the next week I found myself, for the most part, out of contact with friends and family. I sent the occasional email or text, but my wifi connection would be lost before I could finish a conversation. My family wasn’t around for constant words of encouragement when I needed them or for an update after I coached my first game- Mia Hamm for Health and Wellness, which is when I quickly found out coaching players that weren’t fluent in English would take a lot of body language, enthusiasm, and examples. My friends weren’t around to poke fun at my poor juggling skills or fear of Zimbabwe’s snakes (which I fortunately have not encountered). But by losing the constant presence of the people I felt most comfortable around, I was forced to take a look at all the people I had around me for support, laughs, and conversation. The CAC coaches, Markus, Julie, and Charlie, were new friends, but friends nonetheless. I found that connecting off the field helped our connection on the field. Whether it was bonding over the massive spider we found in our bedroom or trying to guess how late our ride would be, I was slowly finding comfort in the coaches with which I was working. I feel that the more we worked together, the closer we would become (as long as we continue to peacefully trade off on who has to sit in the middle seat during our long, bumpy car rides).

    The participants in the Bindura program also served as a way to connect with the people in my working environment.On Monday and Tuesday of the program, participants would trickle in to training- some for the first time and some came back as returners to the CAC program. On Wednesday we began to see the foundational group that would continue training with us until Friday. They were invested in the messages we were teaching and brought energy to the games. The participants responses to the games were encouraging and made me think about how we could better improve games in the future. We were helping them develop as coaches just as much as they were helping us develop as coaches. I truly felt a connection with the group on our last day of training. We were playing Tim Howard for Conflict Resolution. Participants split themselves into three groups of five and lined up behind each other. Using different passing techniques, the participants had to get the ball from point a to point b in their line. The participants were excited when they won, became frustrated when they lost, and we even had a few cheaters. I watched as Gertrude- a netball and soccer coach- led her group to several victories. Gertrude was content on the soccer field and smiled widely when her group did well or something funny happened on the pitch. I looked forward to training each day partly because of Gertrude. Her interest in the program provided me hope that she would use our curriculum for her sports teams. For this past week in rural Bindura, Gertrude and the rest of the participants encouraged me with their willingness to learn and gratitude for us and the game of soccer.

    Sometimes the program didn’t always go as planned. We couldn’t email or text participants to remind them about training. There was no Facebook event announcing our arrival. We were dependent on Bulldogs, our partner program, to organize training. In rural Bindura, word of mouth is the main method of communication, which meant sometimes word didn’t get around as effectively as we needed it to. Participants were usually late to training or didn’t attend every day. The flexibility of the CAC program allowed us to cater the curriculum to the number of participants for any day or the amount of time we actually had once everyone arrived. Without access to virtual communication with our participants, we had to find other ways to connect with our participants. We had small conversations after training, worked to make games enjoyable so they wouldn’t forget about training, and tailored our curriculum to the community’s needs so they understood that we were invested in its positive growth. Our interactions with the participants had to be intentional in order for us to form a connection with them.

    Away from the soccer field, we stayed in a home on the outskirts of Harare. “Mother” as she was called was, funny enough, a mother of three children. She was working hard to build up a house and future for herself and kids. Because her house was still in construction and we were in a more rural part of Harare, amenities that contributed to my daily routine were not available. At the home, I had no access to internet, no running hot water, no heat, and often times no electricity. However, I did have the other CAC coaches, “Mother” and her family, a warm bucket of water to bathe in, a warm bed to sleep in, and a host mom who loved to cook us the tastiest meals. My daily routine of oatmeal for breakfast, leftovers for lunch, and a nice Syrian meal prepared by my grandmother for dinner were exchanged for beans, rice, eggs, and avocado for breakfast, a peanut butter sandwich for lunch, and sadza, pork, and cabbage for dinner. Before I continue on, I believe sadza requires its own blog post because it’s so amazing. If you are to look at a portion of sadza, you’d see something similar to mashed potatoes with the texture and consistency of play dough (finally a play dough that little kids can eat). Sadza is a maize based, staple food product of many southern African countries. To eat sadza, you make a small ball of it in the palm of your hands, create a small dent in the middle of the ball, and use this ball to grab whatever food is on your plate. Hence, sadza is used in place of utensils. My hands and food have definitely connected this past week. Because I was not distracted by texting, emails, or keeping everyone at home updated, I experienced the culture of a family in Zimbabwe uninterrupted. By the end of the week I felt at home in “Mother’s” house.

    When I first arrived in Harare, I was excited, nervous, and hungry. One week later, I am still excited and nervous but less hungry thanks to a delicious barbecue with some people at our current lodge.  Zimbabwe knows how to make some good sausages. Our friends at the lodge know how to cook them. Anyway back to the important things- I am still excited and nervous about the upcoming weeks of working with CAC. 6 more weeks, 4 more programs, and 2 more countries stand between me and a big hug from my mom. In the meantime, I will continue to look for wifi and for the most part come up empty handed. But I will also continue to grow in my relationships with my fellow coaches, to find joy in working with program participants, and to gain knowledge about different cultures, and I know I will not come up empty handed…except when I run out of sadza. I’m slowly learning that temporarily losing connection with the people and routines to which I’m accustomed will allow me to connect with the people, places, and experiences around me in unexpected ways. I think if I keep it up, I’ll learn a thing or two. So let the excitement and nerves continue because I am ready for the adventure to continue.