The Rose That Grew From Concrete
December 14th, 2017. Self-Directed Learning Educator, Mark Gabriel, writes about his personal reflections from the week on-field in Hpa an, Myanmar with Football United.
The Rose That Grew From Concrete named accredited to Tupac Amaru Shakur
My friend’s dad once told me, “You never know the impact you have on people. Something you do now could impact them forever. You won’t know it and maybe even they won’t know it. Just live it, be it, and have faith.” These words have helped me understand my role as a Self-Directed Learning Coach and Process Consultant with CAC. I do this work because I believe that, by empowering community leaders to challenge the status quo and ask themselves, “Why do I believe what I believe?”, they are able to be the master of their ways. To make sure that any changes in mentality and behavior come from within the community, we as CAC only stay in each location for one week (and continue the year-round partnership from afar). I have oftentimes been asked if I really think anything can happen in just one week On-Field. My answer — yes. This approach allows for the community leaders to be the catalysts of change rather than looking at us to be. The only thing is… if there is change, I probably won’t see it. Change takes time, and that goes for anything. If you want to lose weight, or learn how to meditate, it takes time. And those changes only have to do with you! Imagine when it involves an entire community. Or an entire culture and belief system. Yea… it can take a while.
But we are not here to be the change. We are not here to see the change. We are here to spark the change. As a Self-Directed Learning Coach, we constantly challenge ourselves and our participants to self-reflect. This in and of itself can be life-changing for many (it sure has been for me). Questioning oneself, one’s beliefs, one’s culture, one’s existence, is not a frequented practice, but yet its power is incomparable. Each program is unique in its own right, as are the participants. However, the impact of having them ask themselves the “Why?” behind aspects of their life stays consistent. Many a time, it is a first for participants to do such a practice.
This week in Hpa-An, it felt much the same. Our participants ranged from players to students to coaches to wannabe coaches, and all were confident in their culture and how life goes in Hpa-An. As they should be! Who knows life in Hpa-An better than them? But once we challenged to think about life itself, and not just in the context of their home, the gears began to spin. Having them question when to award a team a point (do you award the team that finishes first or the team that does it right? Why?), the importance of competition, who can/cannot play sports, what are the differences between man and woman; these questions transcend any cultural norms but find people answer through their own perspective, influenced by their upbringing. Even as a facilitator of these programs, I still find myself falling back to my own culture to paint a picture of the world. Each program I lead, I find myself being challenged more and more to break my tainted perception. This shows us how much our nurture impacts our views on the world. Such realizations and the following inter-personal reflections are what will lead to change.
As of right now, what will become of Football United in Hpa-An is a bit unclear as it is in the beginning stages. It would be easy to be discouraged by the lack of “impact” when looking at sheer numbers of trainings, numbers of coaches, number of players worked with, etc. But impact is much more than these quantitative measures. If our training led to one participant challenging her or hisself, the potential impact is limitless. Maybe I won’t be the change, or see the change, but maybe I hear of the change. One day.
“Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete? Proving nature’s law is wrong it learned to walk without having feet. Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams, it learned to breathe fresh air. Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else ever cared.”
— Tupac Amaru Shakur
Changing Lives Through Sports
November 24th, 2017. Community Impact Coach, Shamsher, writes about his experience working alongside Coaches Across Continents as a partner with ChildReach Nepal and a new member of the Community Impact Coach Initiative on-field with Go Sports Nepal.
There are many organization that works with CAC in partnership, among them Childreach Nepal is one of them who uses sports as a tool to educate children outside of classroom. In 2016 I attended CAC training as a participant with Mark Gabriel the Self-Directed Learning Coach on-field. I was an intern during that time and later on I was selected for the Training and Monitoring Officer position at ChildReach Nepal. Fortunately this year also I got a chance to work with Mark Gabriel again and learn from his coaching skills because I was inspired by them. In the two week program with Childreach Nepal at two different districts Dolakha and Sindhupalchowk Mark Gabriel and Ashlyn Hardie saw my coaching abilities and improvements. They offered me to join CAC team as Community Impact Coach to deliver training to the Go Sports Nepal program in Kathmandu. I was extremely happy when I heard that and I am also really grateful for the offer that was provided to me. Go Sports Nepal is also a partner of Coaches Across Continents who uses the sport for development methodology.
Most of the participants were from different fields like NGO’s, local schools, football coaches, the Women’s National Team Rugby Coach, and local male and female football players. As the youngest participant, everyone was asking me how I became a coach at the age of just 23. I was little bit nervous on the first day but I tried to hide my nervousness and showed my confidence. When I was leading the game “Say No to Child Labor”, which I adapted from “Say No to Trafficking”, in the last round of the game I introduced a policeman to catch the broker and a player who represented a policeman came to me and he wanted to take picture with me in the middle of game. I told him to go and catch a tagger who represented a broker in the community….but he was said “No no please, one photo with you”. I was laughing at him, still he was ignoring me and wants to take a photo. That was one of the most unique parts for me.
Since, I am from local organization there are lots of possibility to work together in the upcoming future thanks to the networking that CAC initiated. I also networked with some other local organizations and schools that will be fruitful in the coming days. For example, mid-week after the training I went to Football stadium ANFA with Mark and Ashlyn to watch live game between NEPAL and Philippines for the Asian Cup Qualifier game which was also one of the highlighted part of the week! On the next day after the training we visited Vajra Academy, a Green School in Kathmandu, which took 1.5 hours bus ride from field. The school is little bit far from the main city and it has been doing great work such as aware people on different issues that they are facing in the community and also provided opportunities for students and villagers to maintain quality of life in the future. We then also discussed the possibilities of collaborating and working together in the coming days. At the end of program I sang a song “Che Che Cooley” and dance with all participants which was superb ending!
This was an amazing week for me. I got a chance to lead many sessions and give feedback to other coaches through coach-backs, which has made me a role-model for them. I am very thankful to Mark Gabriel, Ashlyn Hardie, Ian and JK for giving me a chance to become CIC and helping me to become better coach. Personally, I would like to thank especially Mark Gabriel for starting the opportunity and networking with Vajra Academy. I look forward to working with CAC again in the future.
Believe In Sport, Invest In People
I like to call myself a believer, but I wasn’t always one. Growing up in a low-income, single-parent household, it didn’t matter that I had good grades and stayed out of trouble; going to college was always much more of a dream than a reality. My coaches never seemed to see the world the way I did. They always seemed to have this odd fascination with “Life” and used every available opportunity to talk about it. It didn’t matter if a player’s grades had dropped, someone had missed practice or just simply messed up in a drill, the lesson following always seemed to leave the realm of what it took to be a great basketball player. You see, my coaches knew my community. They understood my slang; they knew where to get the best haircut in town and what things negatively affect the lives of youth on the daily basis. They were from my world. A world in which hope is hard to come by and struggle was even harder to escape. They knew who I was, where I was from, but believed sports had the ability to change this kid’s life forever. This kid being me, of course.
Now, months after graduating from Bard College I am traveling the world searching for innovative ways in which sports could be used to combat a range of social issues. Through the first 3 months of my trip one theme has stood out above the rest and made me question the sports evangelistic views I once held. Through my first three months I have become more of a believer in the power of people than in sport itself. My trip to Dolakha, Nepal with Coaches Across Continents only further solidified this shift in perception.
After an exhausting 8-hour bus ride, up the side of a mountain, a group of 12 coaches speaking four languages and representing 3 different organizations (Jungle Crows Foundation, Child Reach Nepal and Coaches Across Continents) sat around a table and attempted to hash out the details of what the first session would look like. I sat and listened to these conversations mostly interested in hearing about the “Self-Directed Learning” curriculum of CAC. Even though I got to see the curriculum put into action every day during the sessions, the dinner table debriefs shed the most light on what “self-direction” truly meant. While the conversation was usually started by Mark and Ashlyn from CAC, the coaches and young leaders from Child Reach Nepal and the Jungle Crows Foundation were pushed to lead the direction of the discussion. The coaches evaluated their own communities, highlighted the salient issues, and both adapted old and created new games that would be used as a vehicle to get youth to think critically about their communities. It was at this table that the coaches welcomed criticism just as much as they did an extra C-momo. While the pictures from the week may highlight how much fun the school-children in Dolakha had during the sessions with CRN, JCF, the moments that weren’t caught on camera were the most important. It was in these moments that CAC could work with its partners to ensure that the smiles you see in the recap picture are sustained for years to come.
At this point in my Watson journey, it was amazing to have the opportunity to tag along with an organization that believes in sports, but invest in the power of people. It’s amazing because even though I may have been the same person I am today without the game basketball; I know I would not be in the position I am today without my coaches – coaches who could see a reality beyond my immediate circumstance, and coaches who knew how to help me see it for myself. Most importantly, coaches that were personally invested in my community and weren’t going to disappear anytime soon.
ISF Coaches Take the Lead!
I went to Cambodia with a very open mind and was excited to see how CAC used football as a tool for social impact. I really liked the self-directed learning model they had in place. I have always felt very passionate about sport and I know from personal experience how life-changing sport can be. I wanted to learn more about the social messages that football has taught in the Cambodian community. I realised that Cambodian people face a number of social issues and it really hit home how many messages through football help people facing these social challenges. Not only face these challenges, but allow the coaches that Coaches Across Continents has been training to take these games and teach them in their communities, making a real difference to so many lives.
On the first day of training, all the coaches from ISF (Indochina Starfish Foundation) were very welcoming and friendly. We had some younger players from a local program that works with young people who have been affected by HIV. CAC coaches, Mark and Emily, ran games on the first day alongside Nara and Panya who are two experienced coaches that have taken part in the CAC programme for the last few years. It was great to see all the coaches having fun – their love and passion for football was evident. Mark and I visited a disability session at Rabbit School in the afternoon and the session was great as it was very inclusive, fun and the coaches had a great relationship with all the students varying in disability.
On the Tuesday we returned to the training field where some of the experienced coaches who have been in the programme with CAC before, were asked if they would like to run a game. A few of them put their hand up, and ran games that they knew and had used in their community before. Many were CAC games but some were games they had created in their local community addressing social issues, inspired by the Coaches Across Continents Self-Directed Learning Model. In the afternoon we visited one of the ISF schools for kids whose parents are unable to provide their kids education. We met with some of the staff and students who were really friendly and we watched an afternoon football coaching session led by a some of the coaches from the CAC programme.
Unfortunately Mark was unwell on Wednesday so the ISF coaches were asked to run more of the games. I also ran my own game too which was a trust exercise where we used blindfolds and I asked the coaches to guide one another through an obstacle course. In this I was also able to get the coaches to run as fast as they could with blindfolds on, which was fun for all. In the afternoon we visited another IFS school, which was much smaller than the school from the day before – but, all the teachers and students were very friendly and they welcomed us at the gate with hugs and lots of questions. They asked us our names, where we are from and whether we would play with them. It was really nice to hang out with the students, watch them play sports with one another and see them having lots of fun.
After the training on the Wednesday, the ISF coaches were asked to plan and run the activities for the Thursday. As we left after the training the coaches were all in discussions, planning the next day. When we arrived at the training field on the Thursday, the ISF coaches were all ready to go and beginning to set up their activities. They ran a morning of some CAC games but what was most impressive was that they came up with their own games too that had social messages. The training ran smoothly and was really well organised. In the afternoon we visited a school where the ISF coaches worked and there were four football sessions happening with both boys and girls of different age groups. The sessions were fun and it was great to see so many talented footballers at the school.
On Friday, it was CAC’s turn to run some games and a lot of the activities were game orientated so the coaches were very tired at the end. But, they had good fun and can now implement some of these games in their coaching programmes. I ran a game too which I really enjoyed called Child Rights: Right to Education game. I really appreciate the impact of the social messages that these games provide. After training we headed for some food on the roadside with some of the ISF coaches and kids from a community hub supporting youth who have been affected by HIV. We went to their community and the ISF coaches ran a great session with around 50 kids using some of the HIV social impact games. It was great to see the ISF coaches working with the kids and the amazing laughter and excitement the kids had playing these games.
It has been a great first week on field in Cambodia, it has been great meeting with all the coaches and seeing their coaching styles, and learning new coaching ideas from them. Seeing the close relationships with the kids they coach was the biggest take away for me. I am looking forward to seeing the ISF coaches coach more next week and personally learn more of the games CAC uses to help social change.
Creating Positive Impact in a Conflict Zone
August 7th, 2017. Salim Blanden, CAC Community Impact Coach and Founder of CAC partner Mbarara Sports Academy in Uganda, writes about his experience working for Coaches Across Continents on-field with Horn Of Africa Development Initiative (HODI), in Kenya.
Migori, Rusinga Island, Mogotio, Nairobi – our next destination would be Marsabit with HODI (Horn Of Africa Development Initiative) for our fifth and last program in Kenya. Our ten hour trip to Marsabit started at 7:00 AM in Nairobi with everyone looking forward to working with HODI, an amazing program near the Somalia border which is ran by Fatuma Adan, a recent graduate of law.
Fatuma established HODI as a community-based organization in 2003 to address the inadequacy of access to legal services for the poor people of Marsabit. She shunned salaried employment at the judiciary to, instead provide a small legal aid desk for people who needed, but could not afford legal representation in court cases. The organization has since grown to be the voice of championing peace and development in Marsabit through advocacy, education, community cohesion and livelihood support programs – all through using football. Today, HODI serves close to seven thousand people with offices in Marsabit and Moyale. For me, I was looking forward to a great week working with an organization that has a lot of meaning to the people of Marsabit.
As usual, we would start the training on Monday morning. But before we began we held a meeting with Noor Abduqadri, a worker with HODI, and other staff who talked to us about their expectations and what they wanted to learn from Coaches Across Continents. They also wanted to tell us about things to talk about and what not to talk about. Since Marsabit is purely a Muslim majority region, most female participants would wear long dresses commonly known as ‘the Hijab’ and also cover their heads at all times during the training sessions. Noor expressed his fear that the female participants would not be open to us since we were all male. Knowing that Mumina, a staff from HODI and one of the female participants, would be training with us, I knew everything was going to be possible.
As this was going to be our second week conducting a program as Community Impact Coaches (CIC), I did not want to ask a lot from Mark Gabriel – our leader from CAC. But, I did want to find our own way of running a better week with my friend Nicolas Achimpota, a CIC from Tanzania.
Our first day on Monday was a great one and very exciting, especially when we started to play. There were no religious issues, the girls felt free to play with boys and were comfortable with us which was not what we thought. This program was unique because we had more female participants compared to males, which was rare to me. All of the past four programs we did in Kenya had more male partcipants than females. For HODI, it was different, proof of how this organization has empowered women in Marsabit. Majority of the girls were very active throughout the program and during our school visit to one of the primary schools in the area, it was the girls that coached games.
Our third day was a short one, because of the anticipated President’s visit for a political campaign in Marsabit. The President of Kenya was campaigning in Marsabit with a few days remaining to the country’s general elections, and people all over Marsabit wanted to attend this campaign. With little time to the end of the program, one of the participants told us the town would not be a safe place to pass when the president arrives. We decided to stop the training and go back to the hotel, which was the best choice for us. As soon as we reached the hotel, the president arrived and had a peaceful campaign that lasted about one hour with a lot of security personnel on all the streets of Marsabit.
After the president left however, conflict broke out between tribes that supported different county candidates, and the police intervened. We decided to lock ourselves in the rooms until we were sure of safety outside. After the situation normalized in the evening, I knocked on Mark’s door for a long time but he never responded… Later told me he would not risk opening for anyone, even if he knew them. We laughed about it!
At the end of the week, we decided to go back to the field to do the last training and give out certificates, we also wanted to hear their experiences regarding the violence and what they thought ahead of elections.
The coaches held a meeting and talked about how they could keep safe as community leaders during the election period. They all believed that what they had learned from CAC throughout the week and the messages they had learned from the games, especially those about peace and conflict prevention, were necessary for them to practice.
For me this was a clear sign that we had created positive impact at the right time through games.
Searching for Unideal “Ideal” Places
July 26th 2017. Global Citizen JK Cho writes about his week on-field working with Mother Child Health Foundation in Kenya.
“This Is Africa” (“TIA”). People come to Africa and often hear this remark, meaning don’t complain and just shrug off inconvenience or misfortune coming from the cultural or technological difference. As much as I have enjoyed the epic natural beauty and people’s kindness of Africa, I also had to overpass some TIA moments: Catching malaria and spending nights with neither power nor running water were somewhat predictable. It was mentally, physically, and spiritually challenging making a seven-hour-long minivan bus (“matatu”) trip on the bumpiest road I’ve ever been on with 20 people and a bunch of fish and dead animals crammed in. Wherever I go, I would get followed by dozens of kids and get yelled at endlessly, “mzungu (nomad or white man).” If I get lucky, they would call me “China.” Oh, I copped me my Ghanaian tattoo in Kumasi, that is a burn scar on my calf from the exhaust while I was riding a motorcycle taxi (“boda boda”). I was very close to losing it in Gomoa Benso when people full-blasted commercial messages in the streets (like outdoor concert style), from 2 am to 8 am every single night.
Anyway, these all are unique, cute experiences. When this sort of event happens, I now tell myself it’s one more story to tell when I get back to the states. However, it becomes a nightmare for people working in Africa when their project is put in danger for a “TIA” reason, like this week’s program in Rusinga island in Kenya, for example. Mother Child Health Foundation (Mother Child) was founded by Mary Okech in 2016, with a mission of achieving “0” maternal mortality rate in Homa-Bay County. One day Mary found out that her fourteen-year-old cousin was unwantedly pregnant along with 24 more girls in her high school. The girls starved while they were attending classes, skipping breakfast and lunch. Most of them ended up dropping out of school to find a job to support themselves and their fetus. Mary was mad and devastated and started providing the girls 10 to 20 Kenya shillings (10 – 20 U.S. cents) a day so they could eat and keep going to school.
In spite of her beautiful mind and passion, Mary had felt inadequate to pursue the task continuously, and Mother Child consistently had faced financial and organizational challenges. Mary found out about Coaches Across Continents (CAC) through her mentor, Joseph, who had had a partnership experience with CAC, and requested a partnership with CAC. Although the start-up charity for young pregnant women’s health was not directly related to training teachers to discuss Self-Directed Learning, CAC decided to work with it to promote sustainable changes in the community. When Team Kenya arrived at Rusinga island, however, things were a lot different from what we were expecting. We found out that Mary got a new job in Nairobi in the mean time and moved out of Rusinga island, so Mother Child had to stop operating tentatively. There was no program. On the first day of the program, a handful of participants from a boy football team showed up, hoping to move to the states, because they thought we were recruiters. T.I.A… Did I not learn that things are subject to get real (or unreal) at any moment? I later figured that there was a significant gap of the way people do things and the expectations between CAC and Mother Child. A lack of technological access in the island also limited communication.
CAC takes a considerable amount of risk in designing and executing a training program in about 60 different developing countries. It runs 21 programs in Africa this year, and each program is expensive and extremely labor-intense. The nature of social development work in Africa let alone involves lots of uncertainty. Things and words could change quickly here. Language and cultural barriers and limited internet access make it tougher to coordinate a program with a partner in a small rural village. I believe the uniqueness in CAC’s partner selection adds even more risk. CAC choose to work with community’s need based, not based on charity partners’ qualifications and potentials. In other words, CAC seems to want to give an opportunity for any communities who need its help rather than limit it to successful and notable charities. That isn’t a logical decision for growth and security from the business stand point, but a brilliant move for choosing meaningful impact and keeping its integrity. CAC is a mission-driven organization that makes mission-integrated decisions. That is why CAC finds some of these unideal situations ideal. And that is also why CAC is a leading global social impact organization winning Most Impactful Companies and Beyond The Sports awards.
And then, what happens is that CAC coaches do magic. These guys are working on the frontline of global social impact, playing multiple vital roles. A lot of CAC’s partners in developing countries have organizational and operational weaknesses. Those weaknesses are big obstacles for them to work with international NGOs like CAC hindering their functions and sustainable growth. Besides providing training, CAC coaches create shared value by consulting about a clear vision and mission, strategic directions, relevant impact measures, and functional networks. Helping partners constructing these essentials would consequently improve CAC’s program quality and impact progress in future years. Traveling about 4 to 7 months a year CAC coaches have to be an excellent coach, an international project manager with extensive sympathy, and a travel expert with high-stress tolerance. It really takes a special talent and personality to do the job.
This week’s hero was coach Mark Gabriel. When we discovered the program was in danger of cancellation, Mark didn’t let that happen. He grabbed Mary, basically rebuilt Mother Child, and saved the program for the whole week. The flying squirrel (Mark’s nickname) first arranged a partnership with a boy health organization in the island and established a foundation to visit schools and provide proper sexual and maternal education. And then, he talked to a women’s vocational school and other women organizations in the island and got some of the teachers and students involved in Mother Child as volunteers. He customized and complicated female empowerment and sexual health related games for Mother Child. Additionally, Mark created surveys and matrix so Mother Child could record and monitor their activities in the future. Finally, he promised Mother Child that he would give a year-around support to Mother Child as an impact consultant. While Mark was beasting, I backed him up by breathing entrepreneurial fumes all over Mary.
Mary now feels empowered and believes running Mother Child is her destiny. She believes CAC’s mind-training- using one’s own body helps make a habit of identifying one’s issues, taking actions, and make changes. Mother Child now has a structure, tasks, and people to work with. She said her long-term goal is to build a school for young pregnant women in Homa Bay. The training result also turned out pretty well. 27 Rusinga Islanders of local teachers, students, volunteers, and players participated the training. As a result, we estimated the program would potentially benefit 493 children. The size of this week’s program was nothing impressive, but the meaningfulness of the impact was tremendous and would be memorable. CAC finds another unideal ideal place and gets one-step closer to its mission.