• The Wonder of Motobikes

    CAC returning volunteer Mike Mazzullo blogs about getting around Dschang, Cameroon with Breaking Ground. Thanks to the Taiji Branding Group who support this project and bring CAC to life with their incredibly creative designs! Check out this website and our Annual Review for proof of their excellence.

    June 30th 2016. Our partner for the week is Breaking Ground, who specializes in sport for social impact and emphasizes female empowerment. I, along with many others, have written blogs on the power of CAC’s curriculum in confronting problems. Although Dschang’s participants warrant plenty of praise, this blog post is about something off the main path: motobikes.

    It’s a great value: about 20 cents a ride, to anywhere in town.

    As you enter the town of Dschang, Cameroon, the bus depot buzzes. Kids hawk peanuts and plantains, drivers honk to signal “let’s go!,” and hands slap the back of buses to say “stop there!” The cacophony of shouts and honks and claps is steadied by another, more constant buzz: motobikes.

    When I say motobike, it’s useful to think of a cross between a dirt bike and a bare motorcycle. The long seat extends to fit one, two or more passengers. I have not encountered their kind in the States. Motobikes and their operators have a tricky job.

    The clientele varies, and one must be prepared to transport nearly everything and everyone. Most locals of Dschang get around by popping themselves onto the back of the nearest moto, cargo in tow. Some fares involve the carrying of wooden planks, bundles of bananas, or a Western volunteer with his duffel bag and backpack.

    The terrain requires dexterity; red earth hardens into ruts and ridges with the sun, and dissolves into puddles and potholes with the rain. Riders must be nimble enough to maneuver the twisty turns and sturdy enough to slog through steep climbs.

    Motobikes compete with cars for space on the inside shoulder,  and the whir and whoosh of the motos ensure pedestrians don’t wander too far from the outside shoulder. The rules tend to be followed, if not enforced.

    Dschang is bumpy and hilly. As you snake from the high center of town, glimpses of farmland and villages pock the distant green. A layer of clouds sits on the waist of the hill-line, providing a latitude of fog cover. One of the great things about beautiful places is the way your eyes can surprise. Riding a moto can be exhilarating, practical, scary. As a foreigner, there’s a slight impulse to treat it like a scenic tour/roller coaster. Glimpses turn into stares. It’s a bit like taking a peek out your cab window and realizing the Empire State Building is before you. Landscapes can have that effect. A casual glance en route invites a momentary break from the world.

    Spedometers are an aesthetic accessory. One moto’s spedometer was stuck at 0 kph, another’s at 50. You get the sense everyone is speeding, but no one is in a rush.

    How to ride on the back? Do you embrace the driver, grip the side handles, or spend the time texting? Most put their hands off the back fender, as if they were really relaxing in the rear seat of a car. I clutched the driver’s shoulders, almost out of worry he’d forget I was there. Also, if I got lost looking into the hills and clouds, I might forget I was there.

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  • Malawi. The Warm Heart of Africa.

    August 1st 2015. Mike Mazzullo writes about his time in Mzimba, Malawi working alongside fellow Columbia University alum and CAC Staff, Nora Dooley.

    The first time I heard that Malawi is the Warm Heart of Africa, slight worry nagged me. Even though it’s winter, the thought of a “warm” place in a continent that has some pretty warm places was alarming. Of course, “warm” probably refers to a generous spirit, but one can never be too careful when it comes to high temperatures. After a week in Mzimba, the double meanings of “warm” Malawi can be safely confirmed.

    To set the stage a bit, this was a first-year program in Mzimba, which is a medium-sized town in central Malawi. Most of the economy is agricultural. It’d be hard to find better tomatoes. Our participants, who come from Mzimba and the surrounding communities, number about 65. The majority of them are teachers, and thus share a special place in my own heart. I learned of their challenges in the classroom. 90 kids per teacher? Small classrooms without fans, in the African summer? Lack of basic materials like notebooks and pencils for everyone? Hard for me to imagine.

    The hope is for CAC’s philosophy – using soccer to teach life or academic or any type of skills – to equip educators with another tool.

    That doesn’t mean we can’t have fun. Let me explain the Cucu Dance. It’s used as a form of good-humored punishment.

    The Cucu Dance. (Cucu = chicken.) It’s a CAC favorite, and easy to learn. With a slight resemblance to a chicken, you: bend knees, flap elbow-bent wings, and shake your angled legs in and out. Stupid grins are recommended, and tend to come naturally. The whole thing is patently ridiculous and makes a mockery of anyone’s desire to avoid looking like an idiot. It’s a combination of the Charleston, dougie, and Kevin Nolan’s goal celebration. The participants in Mzimba go bonkers for the Cucu Dance. Any awkward silence, on the field or in the classroom or during snack, became an opportune moment to spontaneously break out into full fledged limb-clucking. It’s equally hysterical and shocking. Nora Dooley deserves credit/blame for the proliferation of said dance globally.

    Besides the group’s  willingness to have fun (often at their own expense), there was also a willingness to address the serious social issues in their community. Take something that stirs little laughter: HIV/AIDS.

    One great game to teach about sexual health is the pebble test (officially known as “Can Adebayor See HIV?”). Split your team into two lines, a few yards apart, and facing each other. Everyone put their hands behind their backs. Eyes closed. The coach walks behind the blind rows and quietly places one pebble in a player’s hands, and repeats for the other line. When you shout “eyes open”, one player from each row should be holding a pebble, but make sure everyone keeps their hands hidden. By the way, the pebble represents HIV. Select a player to start the guessing. He or she selects someone on the other row in the hope of revealing the mighty pebble-holder. If the chosen is pebble-less, he or she is the next to guess from the other line. And so on and so on, until finally both owners of the rocks are exposed. What’s the point?

    The pebble test is a simple game with a simple message. Like trying to guess if someone is hiding a pebble, we are blind to someone’s HIV status. You can’t see HIV. Don’t judge someone’s sexual health by using the “eye test”- the way they dress, their reputation, or the supposed guilt on their face.

    The participants in Mzimba loved the set of HIV/AIDS and sexual health games and identified them as a high-point of the week.

    Sexually transmitted diseases are so prevalent, deadly, and misunderstood. What can teachers/coaches/leaders do? Maybe simple classroom instruction is not enough. Maybe some kids need musical songs, other kids need visual aids, others the game of soccer. It’s something worth thinking about, and solving.

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  • Beautiful Mountains, Beautiful People, Beautiful Game

    July 15th 2015. Volunteer coach Mike Mazzullo, from New York City, joins fellow Columbia University ’12 alum Nora Dooley on-field in South Africa and Malawi. He writes here about our recent training near Cape Town:

    The first sign that I’m a visitor to South Africa: it’s hard to stop looking out the window. There is no shortage of natural beauty. Landscapes of mountain and vineyards and ocean surprise the eyes at every turn. People buzz alongside highways, walking to work, selling wares, looking for a hitch-hike, and perilously crossing major roads. Different communities pass by, some idyllic, some not.

    Each morning I’m sobered by the disparity between living conditions for the wealthy and the poor. It is hard to overestimate the gap between townships and suburban enclaves. I think of the homeless on Park Ave. Such inequality just doesn’t feel right.

    We arrive in Khayelitsha, the location of CAC’s 2nd-year program for the Western Cape. Cars full of participants arrive and filter into the gym that is our home for the week. Good-bye to any sadness from the morning ride’s sights. Five minutes with the participants fill that space with hope and laughter.

    The participants are a mixture of local community leaders and coaches. training4changeS, the implementing partner, brings their crew of seven coaches. Girls and Football SA brings four, all female. Dumi represents City Mission. There are many others, each with his or her own story and sense of purpose.

    Every day a participant’s story floors me. Take Keke’s. His experience is all too common.

    We are united by the idea that soccer can be a force for positive change in the world around us.

    And the participants brought, along with their enthusiasm and football skills and jokes, problems from their communities. Let me talk about one.
    …………………………..
    Gang violence recurred throughout the week. People spoke of the allure of gangs in offering economic opportunity, how gangs can become a family for those who have none, and how gangs entrap children at a young age. These conversations carried glazed looks, suggesting firsthand exposure. It didn’t take me long to notice graffiti of “28” and “26” – prominent local gangs – marking some buildings and traffic signs.

    …How can soccer deal with such an issue?

    I forgot to mention Nora Dooley. She’s CAC staff leading the program, and happens to be awesome. Nora coached the game called “Say No to Gang Violence”. CAC had originally designed the game to confront human trafficking in Indonesia.

    The set-up is simple. Each corner of the field (or gym) has a coned square box. These will represent what happens when you are “stuck” in gangs. Group discussion identifies the effects of gangsterism. It could be violence, theft, drug abuse, whatever the group thinks.

    Next, the discussion moves to how gangs attract youth in the first place. Three “taggers”-people holding cones- represent the methods of entrapment. It could be involving kids in petty crime, the legacy of an older sibling’s involvement, financial reward and social status, whatever the group thinks.

    The game is for the “taggers” to catch everyone else and send them to the boxes, which represent the harmful effects of gangsterism. It’s a pretty powerful image.

    Next we talk solutions. Are there safe spaces, ways out of gangs, strategies for avoiding them in the first place? Lots of conversation and ideas.

    Nora introduces cones and soccer balls as symbols of safe spaces/deterrents/escape routes – you can’t get tagged if you have the ball. Share the round thing and help others! It’s another powerful image, that football can save youth.

    The game continues with more progressions, further confronting the main question of: What can we do about it? Ultimately the coaches and local organizations will decide.
    ………………

    One of the t4c coaches, Sylvester, imparted an African proverb:”If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

    I think the mingling of various groups will have a long-term return. In any field – business, education, sport or whatever – ideas stale. One benefit of a CAC program is the ability to bring diverse people together.

    Even nonprofits can succumb to one-mindedness, but these organizations of the Western Cape saw each other as partners and allies. The biggest divisions in Khayelitsha emerged over Man Utd vs Arsenal, Kaizer Chiefs vs. Orlando Pirates, Ronaldo vs. Messi.

    And on the car ride back to Stellenbosch, again seeing the gamut of natural beauty and human experience, I thought less about passing strangers and more about the CAC participants.

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