Let us play: Congo Mothers Call for Parity
July 28th 2016. Our third year On-Field with Malaika through the eyes, ears, and words of SDL Coach and ASK for Choice Strategist, Nora Dooley.
“Tomorrow morning we will ask a group of about sixty Congolese men what they are going to do for the women and girls in their communities. What would you like me to tell them on behalf of you, the mothers of Kalebuka?”
It was Thursday afternoon and I was sitting in a circle with my teammates and twenty women, all mothers of children who play at Malaika’s FIFA Football for Hope Center near Lubumbashi, DRC. We had just finished the fourth day On-Field with a fantastic bunch of participants. The group was comprised mostly of returning coaches from the two previous years of CAC trainings, the vast majority being older men with clear experience in both playing and coaching football.
Now, to massively understate, I’ve led a few CAC programs where I am in the minority as a woman. I find confidence here – almost as if the strength of all the incredible females I’ve ever met or known is fueling me in this seemingly boundless male-dominated territory. But looking around the circle at these mothers… I’ve never felt so small. I let go of all personal doubts as to what I was doing there and dove in. I had to hear them – and not just because I was selfishly eager to know even a small part of their stories, but because all week long conversations about gender equity and women’s rights were sprouting up from men. It was past time for the woman’s voice to Mingle Mingle.
We laughed, we listened, we danced. And I carefully noted.
The intense week with the coaches charged my emotions in this session. In four days we had explored ideas about different cultural possibilities, different organized religious beliefs (or lack thereof), and new and different ways to venture into these types of vital discussions on the football pitch. The participants were given the opportunity to identify a specific social issue and adapt or invent a game that would create space to discuss solutions. We danced through the struggles and vulnerabilities of coaching for social impact that – in my opinion – inevitably produce more beautiful music. One of the key conversations was unpacking the coaching toolbox that the participants could make use of if they so chose. A particular tool that came up repeatedly on and off the field was the use of a coach’s ears. And how as leaders we have the option to lecture or listen. The movement from the former to the latter over the course of the coaches’ practical sessions was profound. Our model, demonstrated not forced: their choice.
They chose and chose and chose. And we listened. After two years of Child Protection Policy trainings (bearing in mind the bulk of returning participants) and the outspoken passion these men demonstrated as they brought up gender inequalities as problems, it was time to shake things up for some localized policy design.
The final day began with small group discussions:
Imagine a future where women and men are treated equally: what does that look like for you?
What is preventing this future from being reality?
What must we do to achieve this future? What would you include in a policy/action plan for gender equity – for the rights of women and girls in your communities?
They vehemently engaged, discussed, shared, listed, debated, agreed to disagree on some things, unanimously agreed on others. They had big ideas and some steps in mind to realize them. But there was still an essential missing piece. I told them about our meeting the previous afternoon with the mothers. I told them we had something to add on behalf of those women. I asked the men if they wanted to listen.
They chose, once again, to use those brilliant ears and I was given a most humbling and thrilling honor of channeling the voices of these Kalebuka mothers, echoing thousands (millions?), as I read aloud their call for parity.
“We women have all the same rights as you.”
“Come with us, men and women together, into the community to share knowledge about girls’ and women’s rights.”
“Let us play! You need to create space and opportunities for us and our daughters to play. If you get two days on the field… we get two days!”
“Encourage us, and include us!”
“We are strong, too.”
And if I may be so bold to add… We are women, and we ASK for Choice!!!
Field Of Dreams
CAC SDL coach Turner Humphries writes about a great week in Kolkata, India with Slum Soccer.
December 18th 2015. In Kolkata we were playing on a recently built artificial turf field behind one of the local schools. Before the field was built (by our partners Chevrolet FC in May!) this area was steered clear of by most of the community, as it became a haven for drug and alcohol use and other antisocial behavior. The addition of this new field has seen a transformation in the community, and a once crime ridden area has become the focal point of positive activity.
Shabaz, a participant from Kolkata, describes what this field has meant to him. “Most of the members of this community enjoy football. Before there was this facility people were practicing in the streets at night, but the police would chase everyone away. That’s how we worked on our fitness – running from the police! Before this field was here this area had lots of problems with drugs, alcohol and other bad things. The people in the community did not feel safe. In a way this field has stabilized the community, you will not see anyone doing bad things around here anymore. Parents now feel comfortable sending their children here at night. Girls have been invited to play too. Everyone should feel safe here; it’s football, not bad-ball. Because of this field I have been able to start my coaching career. Without it I would have nothing.”
During our training the field would be surrounded by community members coming to hangout, chat with friends and to check out the coaches yelling ‘Boomshakalaka’ and dancing around singing ‘Mingle Mingle!’ The field is equipped with lights so the field is almost in constant use. The participants all took pride in the new facility, cleaning up every piece of trash before leaving. It was the ideal setting to go deeper into some of the issues troubling the community and work together to come up with solutions.
Pushing And Pulling
CAC SDL coach Ruben Alvarado blogs from Iringa, Tanzania about draughts and freedom of expression.
November 19th 2015. “You have to understand the game, you cannot just play like that.” Since I don’t have to do anything, the command wasn’t becoming, but the (quite hidden) wisdom behind it did stick.
I’d just lost my first official game of Draughts (Checkers or Damas Chinas in America) on an improvised table, outside of a market where they have mountains of little fish for sale, in Tanzania. I lost in about 47 seconds. Around the 31st second, one of the 4 guys surrounding the rout started making unconventional mouth noises after my last move. “You made a great play, which he acknowledges, keep it up” I thought. Wrong suspicion, he foresaw my defeat. In the next move, my opponent ate 3 of my pieces (in one play!) and won the game.
Of course, in order to enjoy and engage in a game (whatever intention you hold when playing), you must (not as a command but as an inherent requirement for composition as in “in order to vote in an official election for a president in México you must be a Mexican national”) master, in a sufficient level, the technique that will allow you to. They gave me a second chance to play. I decided to focus and take as much time needed for every play. My hopes lived on, for 2 minutes, in the dance with my opponent. Breathing before moving, guarding my pieces, envisioning next moves, it all seemed brighter. Suddenly, my self-declared “helper” (because I see a big difference in giving and forcing to receive), the wise man of the original advice, started moving the pieces for me, without asking. I did not say anything, complain or request him to stop, because it felt like if I let it happen, it would lead me to a deeper understanding of the game, not Draughts, but the game of control.
The FIFA Football for Hope Center in Iringa hosted our second week of trainings in Tanzania. We played Mingle Mingle, because we love Mingle Mingle. Love it so much that we played 6 different types of it, including one created by local coaches. Among the differences between them we could find 2 major similarities: Fun and no “Pushing and Pulling”. Let me bring light to the darkness of doubt to you, my dear reader, that don’t know what Pushing and Pulling means in this context. In Mingle Mingle, we, the group, dance and mingle (of course). Then the leading coach asks, verbally or non verbally, for something from the group, that usually involves getting physically together. For example, “make an elephant of 3 people”, “get together in groups of 8”, “make a family” (whatever this might mean) or “3+9-6”. During this game we often come across people pulling and/or pushing each other in order to complete the task. We don’t think that all physical contact signifies aggression, however we use this specific social dynamic to start a conversation about choice, power, violence, and whatever emerges from the group. We acknowledged the group, not as in “well behaved, let me put this star on your forehead”, but as people loving other people finding harmonious and non violent ways to communicate and manifest their intentions.
Later on in the week we had an intense but respectful sharing about religion and politics, started by our game “Freedom of Expression”. No need for any type of authority to rule in the space. Respect emerged from the practice of honest listening. By this I mean, listening not to respond but to comprehend, to connect. We explored contrasting ideas, some of them even opposite from each other, however, no one tried to “be right”, pull towards “my truth is the truth” or pushed anyone out of the boundaries of that space out of fear of difference, even when things got uncomfortable. We didn’t arrive to an agreement, we didn’t intend to. We just kept playing together.
From my perspective, every not agreed upon experience of Pushing and Pulling equals violence. Intended or “unintended”. Every act of violence finds its roots in the belief that we exist separate from each other. Difference, variety and uniqueness do not mean separation. “I” violate you by “taking away” something from “you”, so I have more than you or you don’t have as much as I. Oil, sense of freedom, the value of your perspective, food, physical capacity, happiness, money, the floor when you speak, hope, your birth right to fail, the control/direction of your experience, you name it. If we want a new culture to arise from the ashes of this old and obsolete ecosystem we must (again, not as a command but as an inherent requirement) intentionally create room for direct experience.
In my experience as a coach/educator, this has translated into facilitating things that I don’t feel comfortable with, since they confronted my own belief system. As long as they don’t attempt against safety, legality or violate others, I count them as a fare exploration, even if thoughts like “I know better” or “I have tons of experience in this matter” or “I know that it can’t have a happy ending…” crossed my mind.
I’ve stopped believing that I can “allow” people to do or not do things. I refuse to believe that I can control other people’s experience. If chosen as part of a group, I will support, teach, guide, correct, share or whatever the group or individual asks from me. Influence does not mean imposed direction.
Other “Pushing and Pulling” cultural/social forces and architectures play a heavy role in learning processes. Punishment and reward based dynamics, such as competition, hierarchy, fear of failure, fear of success, etc. A lot of times I replicated this cycle of impoverishment because I didn’t see them, like that fish that says to the other fish “The water is lovely today” and the other fish responds “what is water?. They almost passed unnoticed, but caused equal harm. As a coach I work consciously not to bring any of these into the spaces that I belong to, since I think they direct from structure.
I will not feel coherent offering something to another human being that I don’t experience directly, so I work in the same way within myself and in my personal interactions.
Sometimes I fail, but at least I see them now, and my radar works better every day.
I lost in my third and fourth games of Draughts. These times against CJ, our beloved volunteer and friend.
However, I moved all of my pieces, the best way to play, and lost.
In order to evolve, we must move our own pieces, without accepting any Pushing or Pulling.
Eagerness, Excitement, Encouragement
CAC SDL coach Markus Bensch talks about his time with Magic Bus in Hyderabad, India.
November 18th 2015. Can you impact a group that you work with for 2 and a half days? That was the question I asked myself when I was approaching Hyderabad for my 2nd program with Magic Bus in India. Tejas (one of our Community Impact Coaches in India) and I arrived together with the participants at the A.P. Forest Academy in Hyderabad on late Saturday morning. This campus would be our home for the next 2.5 days. Due to the Diwali festival the program was scheduled over the weekend and would end on Monday afternoon.
After everybody’s arrival we ate lunch together and I had to realize that the food in Hyderabad was even spicier than in Bangalore. I had to use quite a bit of the yogurt sauce that was provided to soften the taste. After Tejas, who lives in Bangalore, said that the food is spicy for him as well, I was re-assured that everything is fine with my taste buds.
After the heat left my mouth again we met for our first session in the classroom. As part of the introduction we asked the participants about their expectations for the course. As they mentioned their priorities I was putting together in my head the curriculum for the next two days. They asked for a game about nutrition? OK, we can play Balotelli for Health & Wellness. They want to get taught different warm-ups? No problem, I can show them many different variations of Circle of Friends. They want to learn goalkeeping skills? Great, I have planned to play Hope Solo Skills for Life anyway. They want to play Fun games? Sure, during Head Catch we will have a lot of laugher. They would like to learn how to easily introduce to topic of sexual and reproductive health to their children and youth? I think our ASK for Choice game ‘Indonesia for Knowledge’ works perfectly for that. And I was excited, because the participants seemed very eager to learn many new things.
Hyderabad is a hot place during the day so we had to hold back with our excitement and only went on the pitch later in the afternoon for our first On-Field session. ‘Circle of Friends’ already caused a lot of laugher and Mingle Mingle kept the energy high. On the 2nd day we then also got to the topic of sexual and reproductive health. I was not surprised by this request, because I knew that India is a country where people have difficulty talking about any topic that is related to our bodies, sexuality and relationships. Again I was impressed by the eagerness of these participants to change that, because they have realized that keeping these topics under wraps impacts the high number of teenage pregnancies and abortions, forced marriages, sexual abuse and HIV/AIDS. ‘Indonesia for Knowledge’ is a game where two teams are standing in a line and the first two people are facing each other. There is some space between the two players and to their left and right are two gates. One of them represents healthy/positive behaviors and the other unhealthy/negative behaviors. Now the coach yells out different choices a person can make and the respective person in the front has to quickly decide if it is healthy or unhealthy. I started with “Eat vegetables”, “Smoking”, “Drink Water”, “Eat a lot of chocolate” and then moved on to statements like “Have knowledge about your body”, “Use a condom”, “Talk about sex”, “Have a boyfriend/girlfriend” and many more. It was a lot of fun and competition and some of the statements caused an argument as they were not clearly positive or negative. The participants were very grateful for this game as it gives the children the opportunity to make a statement without having to raise their voice and the coach can get a very good idea of what his/her players think about sexual education. They were eager to use it as an introduction before they would even talk with their youth about sexuality.
At the closing ceremony we got to see a visual treat as Tejas, who is a freestyle footballer, gave us a short performance of his skills. It was exciting to see what can be achieved through fun and hard work and what can be done with a ball when it is in the possession of an artist. And as we were driving back from the camp to the city of Hyderabad I realized that even a short training of only 2 and a half days has impact if it is paired with eagerness, excitement and encouragement.
How My Lonely Shadow Became My Little Limelight
November 13th 2015. I was sobering up from my solo trip to the Himalayas with 3 footballs and 300+ chocolates for the mountain kids – a trip which redefined my spirituality and perspective on life. On my way back, the purpose of my trip became clear: “everything we can imagine already exists. What more is there to life than making each other happy? And happiness begins with being content with the life that we are given”.
On November 2nd, I was part of Coaches Across Continents . I was part of something greater than myself. As I hopped on my bike with sheer excitement towards the training camp, I encountered a 10 year old kid who was late to his school and trying to hitchhike. I considered it as sign for me to understand my blessings and share my luxury by dropping him to his school which was somewhere in the woods. After dropping off the child, I thought about the conditions of India today, where there are several problems but people are trying to develop different solutions for them. The school kid had one for his!
At the Nirjhari camp, I was happy to see the participants from last year (during which I was one of them) but this year I was a coach. This amazing transition from being a participant to becoming a Community Impact Coach (CIC) drifted my thoughts back to the times where I faced rejection and discrimination for local football coaching jobs, because they all saw me as a college failure. Today this failure of mine is the fuel of my success! As I thanked my universe, I met Markus at the camp. He bailed me out of these intense thoughts and emotions of mine, by presenting me with a CAC t-shirt – an unforgettable moment where all my hard work paid off. All my lonely shadow became my little limelight.
As the session started, Markus addressed the 34 Magic Bus participants with his sharp and amusing introduction. During the session, I had the privilege of translating his English into 3 of our local languages- Kannada, Tamil and Hindi. I was happy to pay tribute to my school education this way. At one point, he correlated “Football for Profession” with “Football for Life” which made me understand that life is not about surviving but life is about living. Next day, I chose this note as a theme for my presentation on a literature examination addressing my college mates, which fetched me an ‘A’ grade. I was pleased to revive Buddha’s wisdom, “A master should create a master” by sharing what Markus taught me earlier.
Back at training, I watched and coached participants who were jumping, dancing and rolling on the floor with such sincere laughter while we all played Mingle Mingle, Circle of Friends with Boom-Shakalaka, Messi for Conflict Resolution, Hope Solo Skills for Life etc. It was inspiring for me to watch the participants, who were 2 times my age, give 100% to the game and create such enormous positivity in the environment, which celebrated all the goodness in the world. This sense of belonging validated my life – I was privileged to be a part of something amazing yet again.
As Markus piloted this roller-coaster ride of fun, he played a new game called “Brazil for Attitudes”. While the game was played, I was baffled and sad, to watch the stereotype actions of participants, when he called out actions such as “Punch like a boy, punch like a girl; shout like a boy, shout like a girl!”.
At the end of the game, I watched Markus handling this critical situation with such subtle brilliance, by analyzing and making participants recognize their notions on the differences between men and women. The group split for a water break after this. Although the discussion reflected a positive attitude towards both men and women, I thought to myself, that the world would have been a better place if these stereotypes, our ‘pigeonholes’, were created just for pigeons rather than for judgmental notions.
As Andy quotes in the movie ‘Shawshank Redemption’ – “Hope is a good thing and no good thing ever dies”. With this I understand and believe that in spite of all the good and bad in the world, there is always hope for good things to happen.
And, I hope that in all the pigeonholes we create from now on, the pigeons are going to be safe and happy, leaving our minds free for positivity.
When Life Gives you Beetle Nut…Spit It Out
CAC Self-Directed Learning coach Turner Humphries blogs from Sentani, Indonesia about another great week with Uni Papua.
September 25th 2015. Walking around the town of Sentani everyone seemed to be wearing lipstick. Both young and old, men and women, skinny and fat. Each with the same glistening blood red lips. I began looking closer to ensure my eyes were not playing tricks on me. Not only were everyone’s lips red, they were also chewing on what could only have been the most industrious of chewing gum. Investigating further I noticed that their spit had also turned a vibrant red. Could this chewing gum be making their mouths bleed, I wondered? Alas, I gave up my Sherlock Holmes like quest for the solution to this red mouthed quagmire and asked Yan, who would be our translator for the week, just what was going on. “Lipstick!? Ah, that’s beetle nut,” he proclaimed, silently thinking I was the weirdest person he ever met. Beetle nut is an extremely popular snack that after the first crunch of your teeth leaves your mouth a color of red that can be seen from space. Between all my questions for Yan about this mysterious nut he managed to acquire a few for my enjoyment. After he demonstrated the proper chewing technique, I popped a beetle nut into my gullet and began chomping. Immediately my mouth became very dry. My head starting spinning. Stars were coming into view. And after trying to remain strong I, ultimately had to spit it out to a roar of laughter from the crowd that had gathered to watch my inaugural beetle nut experience. I must admit I expected something much more enjoyable. Following a few swigs of lukewarm water I was back to my normal self. Now it was Charlie’s turn.
Driving to the field for the first time we turned into a complex that certainly was no stranger to a bit of camouflage paint, there was lots of exercise equipment, many sport utility vehicles abound and many serious looking men. We were on a military base and our field was adjacent to the shooting range. After going through Circle of Friends we chatted briefly about how the football field should always be a safe place, where players should feel comfortable to express themselves. While this was happening a platoon of soldiers had readied themselves, aimed and began firing off rounds from their M-16’s like they were reenacting the final act of Scarface. However it quickly became background noise drowned out by the sounds of the laughter from our game Mingle Mingle; quickly becoming a fan favorite amongst the Sentani participants.
Before beginning the coaching program in the afternoon Charlie and I would visit a local school in the morning to conduct a brief coaching clinic for the students. After going through some of our games it was time to say farewell to the young Sentanians. Before we took a step off the field the children had raced to their backpacks to retrieve markers. We could not figure out what was happening. They all raced back to us, with marker in hand. They wanted autographs. Suddenly we were swarmed by a mob of Coaches Across Continents fanatics all in dire need of our signatures. Our best efforts to convey that we were not in fact professional players were in vain. They must have heard about my extremely average Eckerd College soccer career. I can only hope my signature will eventually wash off of their school uniforms.