• Mariah Lee Reflects on Trip to the DRC

    Step Up Athlete and professional soccer player, Mariah Lee, talks about her first on-field experience with CAC, advancing gender equality in the DRC. 

    I have just returned home after spending two weeks in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). While I have been a part of the Choice For Women team for more than a year now, this was my first on-field experience with CAC. For the majority of my time in the DRC, I led trainings on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Prevention at the Malaika Community Center in Kalebuka as part of a global initiative with EngenderHealth to address UN SDG 5: Gender Equality. 

    In other words, I used Purposeful Play (i.e., sport/games/play) to teach community leaders about SRHR and GBV Prevention. They will go on to lead sessions in their communities, impacting hundreds of youth across the DRC. Elvis, head of the Malaika Community Center and long-time CAC accredited coach spearheaded the sessions, and together we graduated more than 40 leaders over the course of one week. 

    Reading and hearing about what CAC does is one thing, but experiencing it firsthand is entirely different. There is something really powerful about experiential learning and using play to spark dialogue and introduce concepts. This could look like a game of tag where taggers represent a sexually transmitted disease and the safe area represents a condom. This could also be a game of soccer or handball where scoring a goal symbolizes pregnancy and goalkeepers symbolize different types of contraception. Each game is designed to stimulate discussion and incorporate participants’ ideas and solutions. 

    You might think adults wouldn’t be that excited to get outside and play games all day, but the folks we worked with were incredibly enthusiastic! Our cohort had so much energy– we danced and chanted and laughed together every day. We had our share of serious moments, too. During the week we touched on topics such as reproduction, family planning, contraception, HIV/STI protection, reproductive rights, stereotyping, inclusion, opportunity, power dynamics, and safe choices. For many participants, this was their first time broaching some of these subjects. 

    Fortunately, we were able to create a safe environment where participants were able to ask questions about stereotypically taboo topics. I was able to correct misconceptions participants held about reproduction, contraception, and female athletes. Interestingly enough, the men in our cohort were more accepting of women in sport, and it was the women who were more apprehensive. Most of the women had played soccer when they were younger but eventually stopped because of pressure from their community. They were told playing soccer would make them become infertile, turn into a boy, lose their virginity, lose their breasts, etc. I gladly busted those myths!

    Outside of our SRHR and GBV Prevention trainings, I spent the majority of my time running soccer sessions with coaches and players– including girls from the Malaika School and boys from the surrounding community. In the DRC there is no public education. Parents either have to come up with the money for school fees or their children sit at home all day– or for many– at the local football pitch. I coached many boys who had little to no formal education, where football is one of the few pathways to a better life. Malaika is a tuition-free private school for girls founded by international supermodel Noella Coursaris Munsunka. Noella, who is Congolese and Cypriot was born in the DRC, but raised in the UK after her father died. Noella’s mother, like most Congolese women, had no education and could not support her. This reality fueled Noella’s desire to create opportunities for girls and women in her home country. 

    E-meeting Noella and being welcomed by the administrators at Malaika was incredibly inspiring and further cemented my passion for empowering Black girls. Being able to impact the girls and women of the Kalebuka community is something I will never forget! 

  • 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.

    IMG_2518