• 5 Months, 5 Countries, Beautiful Memories

    Senior Staff member, Markus Bensch writes about his first five months with Coaches Across Continents.

    September 4th, 2014. While writing this I’m sitting in the Atatürk Airport in Istanbul waiting for my connecting flight to Nuremberg, Germany. It will be my first time back in my country of origin after I started to work for Coaches Across Continents in late March. What has it been like in the past five months? Amazing, challenging, rewarding, tiring, refreshing, fun, exciting, and shocking … All those and many more adjectives can describe my experience with CAC and the people I worked with. I want to start with the most recent one that I had in Rwanda, because it’s the one that is the most fresh and that was also the most intense in so many ways.

    We were running four different programs in Rwanda with our partner Football for Hope, Peace & Unity (FHPU) represented by its founder Eric Murangwa and his colleague Didier Bana. There have been previous blogs from Nora, Tom and Yael as well as from Francis saying how impressed we’ve been about the participants, their eagerness to learn, and their motivation to make a difference for their community and Rwanda as a whole. There is so much dedication towards development and change that when you speak to Rwandans at some point during the conversation they all mention the genocide in 1994, it seems that a lot of the dedication and motivation comes from this horrible killing of over 1 million people. On my last day before I left Rwanda I caught the chance to go to one of the memorials that can be found in all different parts of Rwanda. Didier from FHPU, an excellent guide, accompanied me on this trip. We went to Ntarama, a catholic church where one of the mass killings took place. As so often in history the church collaborated with the perpetrators and helped or even justified and blessed the killings. More than 5,000 Tutsis were killed by Hutus in Ntarama on the 15th April 1994 after spending 6 days in and around the church trying to escape the killing. The local tour guide took us through the different buildings around the church and I faced the most shocking picture in the room where the Sunday school took place. There was a bloodstained wall witnessing the killing of the children that were hiding on the church compound. Their heads had just been smashed against the wall and the blood remains on the wall until today as reminder of this horrible killing. And right next to it I saw a 2 meter long pointed wooden stick and the guide explains to us that this was used to kill the women after they have been raped by impaling them from their privates through their head. My breath stopped for a moment, followed by pain in my body, the feeling of emptiness and crying. I feel that with my tears I can give back these victims at least a little tiny bit of compassion and human kindness that they have been missing so much in the last moments of their lives. It’s horrific what humans can do to each other when they’ve lost their humanity. On a sheet that is covering some of the coffins inside the church is written in Kinyarwanda the following sentence: “If you would have known me and if you would have known you, you would have not killed me!” This outcry tells us the reason for this mass-killing and how it could have been prevented.

    But Rwanda is not only about its past and the genocide. It is first and foremost a beautiful country with amazing people. I’ve experienced so much friendliness and so much help when I tried to orientate myself as a stranger in a new country. And I’ve experienced so much kindness and humanity; I’m particularly impressed by the honesty of many Rwandans. In my one week holiday in Rwanda I also saw the beautiful nature of this country. My favourite experience was the two day cycling tour from Gisenyi to Kibuye along the Lake Kivu in the west of the country. Knowing that Rwanda is called the country of thousands hills, you can imagine how much I was physically and mentally challenged in these two days.

    These are the most recent experiences and definitely also one of the most intense of the past five months and will remain and definitely influence me in the time to come. Looking at the wider picture of the past five months I’ve been a part of or in charge of 14 different CAC programs in 5 different countries. And I can just confirm the CAC saying “Every program is different!”. I have had a great introduction by Nora in Uganda and Sophie in Tanzania to the CAC philosophy and curriculum. I want to say “Thank you!” to both of them for their support. After 7 weeks I felt well prepared to run my own programs. To lead the programs in Zimbabwe and South Africa was the next major step for me. I think I learned a lot in this time and as Nick did testimony in my last skype call: “I became less German!” I’ll take that as a compliment and I’m curious what I’ll become. More African? More Cosmopolitan? More relaxed? Hopefully a bit of everything!

    The most rewarding in the past five months was to see how all the groups I worked with differ. The surprise that comes up with each group makes my work so interesting and exciting and at the same time challenging, because it requires the openness on my side to support the development that comes up within the group initiated by the individuals. It is very exciting to put self-directed learning into practice and I like the challenge to get better in it with every single program. Development and Self-Directed Learning is not only reserved for our participants, but through my work it reflects on me and questions my beliefs, assumed limitations, and gives me the opportunity to broaden my borders and develop skills.

    I want to say “Thank you!” to Nick and Brian for giving me this great opportunity to be a part of the “CAC family” to develop my skills and personality and contribute towards “Football for social impact.” Last but not least I want to say “Thank you!” to all the people who work off the field and behind the scenes to make my work on the field possible and easier. I just recently learned that CAC is a fast growing business and we already count 60+ people who are involved in our vision of using football for social impact and contributing time towards CAC. I’m proud to be one of them!