• Using Sports to Unlock the Conversation

    June 9th 2017. CAC Global Citizen Joseph Lanzillo blogs about working with the Ministry of Sport in Pemba, Tanzania.

    From Unguja, Nico and I made the short trip to the island of Pemba (also part of the Zanzibar archipelago), where we joined Markus for the next week’s program. From living in Tanzania, I’d heard of Pemba to be one of the most exotic and remote vacation destinations imaginable: a remote tropical island, unblemished by the tourism industry that has overtaken parts of the busier Unguja island. When I told friends in Tanzania that I was to spend a week in Pemba, I saw the jealousy in their eyes, assuming that I was off for nothing more than a beach holiday. While it’s true that Pemba is among the more comfortable CAC program destinations, it, like any CAC program, is no holiday.

    On Pemba, it is not uncommon for men to have multiple wives, many of whom are married as teenagers. The average woman bears at least 6 children. Though a man may have dozens of children depending on him for support, there are few economic opportunities available to make that possible. In keeping with religious-based tradition, women are sometimes not permitted to leave the home – the husband does all the family’s external business. For the women who do go out in public, it is unusual to see anything more than their faces and hands. Domestic abuse of women and children is seldom seen and even less openly discussed. Sexual abuse of children is known to exist in theory, but rarely traced to a specific person or institution (school, mosque, etc). It is safe to say that Pemba has its share of social issues – issues that, over the course of the week, our participants became more willing to acknowledge and discuss.

    On Monday morning, though nearly a quarter of our 40 something participants had attended our program in a previous year, there were many among the remaining fraction of attendees who seemed unsure of what they had shown up for, some perhaps even a little bit skeptical of what they could possibly gain from the three of us. For some, tactical football instruction seemed to be the priority, rather than any sort of social impact coaching. But despite this, throughout the week, I admired the groups’ receptiveness to our discussion and their increasing willingness to listen and participate in the program. Of course, the curriculum itself is the key to opening our discussions and drawing people into the whole program. It is what makes CAC’s work possible anywhere: using something as fun and engaging as sports to direct a group’s energy to focus on heavier topics that, like sexual abuse of children, can be considerably less fun to engage with. The group began to appreciate the subtle ways that sports can be used to teach valuable off-field lessons. I observed several knowing grins and nods of understanding every time we pointed out the ways that the games reinforce using your voice, as the idea of encouraging children to use their voice seemed to be one that appealed the most to our group. At our closing ceremony on Friday, some of those who had been the least involved on Monday vociferously expressed their satisfaction with the program and their gratitude to the coaches for working with their group, and I was proud to have witnessed their transformations over the week. Though Pemba still has a number of social issues its leaders continually grapple with, I am confident that with every class of CAC participants, there are a few more voices in the community who have the confidence and inspiration to push for the changes they would like to see on their island.

  • ISF’s New Sport Court

    March 17th 2017. We are delighted to congratulate our long-term Cambodian partner Indochina Starfish Foundation (ISF) on their new Sport Court thanks to Connor Sport Court and Beyond Sport (with a recommendation from CAC)!

    The brand new futsal court was installed at their new football facility outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It will be used by ISF to continue to empower disadvantaged children in the community through sport and education. They celebrated the new court by hosting a ribbon-cutting opening ceremony and football competition with more than 600 children in the U-14 and U-10 age categories. They also included an inspiring demonstration with vision-impaired youth playing futsal with special “chirping” footballs.

    Coaches Across Continents has partnered with ISF to help them develop their capacity for educating youth through sport for 4 years including filming our documentary from there in 2015. It is always incredibly special to see our partners grow and better offer high quality programs for their community. We can’t wait to see the new court in person when we return to Phnom Penh in August this year.

    This is the second Connor Sport Court we have helped our partners receive and build following the court in Kigoma, Tanzania. Thanks to Connor Sport Court for their ongoing commitment to building the capacity of organizations involved in sport for social change.

    Thanks to Ryan Burke from Sport Court for the photos

     

  • Epiphanies in Kigoma

    December 11th 2016. CAC Global Citizen writes about our work in Kigoma, Tanzania with Kigoma Municipal Council on their Connor Sport Court.

    Kigoma was the site of the first-ever Coaches Across Continents program, in 2008. It is a town of about 200,000 on the shores of Lake Tanganyika on the western border of Tanzania. Fortunately, the airport is serviced four times each week by flights from Dar Es Salaam – which saved us a draining two-day bus or train trip last weekend. Its lush green hillsides and the proximity of the second-deepest lake in the world provided a pleasant change of scenery from the dusty plains that have defined so much of our time in this country.

    Though it could certainly have just been the small sample of the community that we had, the relative isolation of Kigoma seems to have shaped the social climate there. When we arrived on Monday, Emily and I were immediately swarmed by throngs of schoolchildren who cheerfully called to us Mzungu! Mzungu!;(which means “white person”) and stared at us in awe and with innocent curiosity – something we had not experienced to such an extreme anywhere else in Tanzania. After the participants asked the children to clear from the Sport Court so we could begin the program, a few remained, and one of our participants (a schoolteacher), frustrated at these few who had not obeyed previous commands, ran towards them and swung a full kick at them so that they scrambled out of his way and off the court – just as he had intended. Out of the 44 participants in the week’s program, just five were women – a more steeply imbalanced ratio than anywhere else on this trip. Early in our session that morning, many participants named witchcraft as one of the things they most wanted to change about Kigoma, a phenomenon not even mentioned once in our other programs the past few weeks. Observing all of this on Monday, I sensed that Kigoma was still fixed to traditions that some other Tanzanian communities have begun to reconsider and reshape, and the idea of our CAC program raising questions about these practices already seemed daunting.  In many ways, our work in Kigoma appeared to be an uphill battle.

    Fortunately, throughout the week there were encouraging signs that some of this could change. In several separate conversations, participants discussed the need to change some harmful traditions (like the normalization of physically abusing children) and how they, holding leadership roles as teachers and coaches, could play a role in driving such changes in their communities. Our program and the games we selected opened the floor for these types of debates, and it felt productive to hear so many people discuss what traditions to change and how to do it, large group conversations which don’t seem to very commonly arise on their own.

    There was one moment though that offered the strongest confirmation of the effect of our curriculum. Midweek, we closed our session by playing India for Choice, a tag game that first creates scenarios of child abuse (regular tag), and then shows how individuals in the community can protect children from abuse (blocking taggers by using the ball). Finally, we designate zones on the field were players can’t be tagged, and the group labels zones as real world places where children ought to be safe from abuse (school and home, etc.). As the game ended and players migrated off the court after our ensuing conversation about child abuse, one teacher stood behind, drop-jawed. With awestruck eyes, he approached us coaches: “That…that…was awesome. Wow.” He was blown away at seeing how a simple field game can be a powerful metaphor for a social topic. Emily and I lit up; what a strong sign that what we’ve invested so much time and energy in has begun to catch on! Witnessing his epiphany was encouraging and inspiring because I know that at least one teacher came away from our program with new ideas about how to discuss touchy topics like abuse with his children and his peers. Even if he had been the only one of our participants to see the potential of using sports for social change (and I’m sure he wasn’t), no step is too small toward allowing a community to reconsider the impacts of some long-held traditions.

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  • Msimamo Standing Together

    December 5th 2016. Blog post from Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania by SDL Coach Emily Kruger and Global Citizen Joseph Lanzillo about CAC partner program Msimamo.

    “If you are motivated to do Sport for Development by money, then you will not make the biggest impact. Your priority must be developing the children and creating social change.” -Omari Mandari

    This sentiment drives Msimamo, the sport for social impact club in Dar-es-Salaam founded by Coach Omari at his neighborhood field in 2010. He had been coaching at a local chapter of Right to Play (R2P), and when it was shut down in 2009, he decided that his dream of using sport for social impact to improve the lives of children would not die. He convinced R2P to provide him with just enough funding to get his own organization up and running. Now in 2016, between five different locations, there are over 1,000 girls and boys participating in weekly trainings, each with a modest field where four to five coaches come together to lead.

    We had the great privilege of working with the leaders from Msimamo every morning for one week, learning about their philosophies and practices while also sharing some of ours at CAC. Turns out, we are in sync. Massive heart: check. Imagining a more equitable future: check. Laughter, dance moves, loud voices, open ears: check. And above all, believing in the potential of children to make positive choices for themselves and their community: MAJOR check.

    Omari and his team of coaches are developing great players and even better humans. We witnessed them use games to spark conversations with 40 boys, ages 8-12, about the negative effects of alcohol and drugs, where the boys can go to get help if their rights are violated, and the importance of creating inclusive communities. The attention of these young boys was held during each game, during each talking point because the boys had an interactive role in the session. Omari, Amar, Ally, and the other coaches were not dictating what to do or what to say, but instead allowing the boys to share their thoughts and express their creativity. The coaches even encouraged peer leaders within the group of boys to take on more responsibility throughout the session; they told us after that they hope to soon have peer leaders leading games entirely!

    True to the quote from Omari, there isn’t any money in this for these coaches; Msimamo is a passion project. But because most of them have very little formal education, they do not have formal employment during the day, making Msimamo a tough operation to sustain. But they have an idea: a waste collection business. All they need is a truck so they can personally remove, sort, and transport waste from their community to the Dar-es-Salaam dump before they spend their evening coaching. In his characteristically heroic nature, Omari envisions killing three birds with one stone: making their community cleaner and safer, supporting the livelihood of each volunteer coach (some of whom cannot afford to eat more than one meal a day), and continuing his program to educate and develop the children of the community. It is downright inspiring and invigorating to see coaches who have such a passion for their work with children that they are willing to do the most undesirable of jobs to ensure the survival of their program. CAC must continue to stand together with the Msimamo coaches as they give everything they’ve got to the present and future of their communities.

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  • Putting Words Into Action

    November 21st. CAC Global Citizen Joseph Lanzillo described his experiences working with IDYDC in Iringa, Tanzania.

    The city of Iringa is fortunate enough to have a FIFA-sponsored turf field nestled into one of the rocky ridges surrounding the town, where young men from the area gather for a 6 v 6 match every morning. They play without keepers so instead you must hit either goalpost to score, and they rotate 3-4 teams if there enough players. The games are fast paced and can feature some incredibly precise finishing ability. Those not playing lounge on the side wall overlooking the neighborhood on the slope below, where the equatorial sun glimmers off the tin roofs of the buildings. As the games run, other young men filter through to watch and chat with their friends on the sideline, before all pack up to go their separate ways for the day. It is an enviable morning routine; a smooth blend of exercise, community, and scenic beauty – pleasures of life that anyone could appreciate having combined on a daily basis.

    The same sense of community was shared through our daily sessions at this field with local volunteers for the Iringa Development of Youth, Disabled, and Children Care (IDYDC). All of the participants in our program were passionate about improving their programs for children, for which they volunteered as coaches, teachers and mentors for young people in the area. At midmorning every day, the group took a long break, where a few women of IDYDC brought tea and a few breakfast treats for everyone to enjoy. For about a half hour each morning, the participants, men and women who ranged in age from 19 to 59, socialized together over the meal. On the field, the group was congenial and enthusiastic. Throughout the week, it was clear that not only were they already familiar with each other through their work with IDYDC and enjoyed working together, they also shared the same passion for improving their own coaching skills and their local programs. It was inspiring to see their shared commitment to the larger work of their organization, and even more so to observe their openness to new ideas and willingness to engage with the issues in Iringa.

    On Monday, as participants made teams for one of the games, there was audible clamor for gender equality on the teams. I hadn’t expected such a deliberate effort or even awareness of the gender inequality that plagues most of the world, and was impressed to see that this was on their radar. Their effort indicated some previous exposure to and willingness to accept such progressive ideas, which seemed to be an encouraging sign for the week’s program. But did the reality of the society in their community reflect the ideas they seemed to support during the program? Who played in the local pick-up games every morning? Men. Why are there no women playing football in the morning? Because they were working in the fields instead. While 20-30 men and boys gathered to play on a daily basis – many of them just loitering near the field – the adjacent land had several women, some of whom appeared to be beyond child-rearing years, toiling away watering and picking crops. Of course, while this one anecdotal scenario does not unequivocally prove inequality between men and women, it is a dramatic example of the disparity that our programs work to bring to the attention of the participants.

    Indeed, just a short time after the participants so nobly divided into equal teams of men and women, the coaches noticed that men were often taking control of the game and in some instances preventing women from participating in it as fully. During the partner scrimmage game (a normal football game where each “player” on the team is actually a pair of people holding hands), Nick made an example out of one couple (conscientiously arranged to be male and female) where the man denied the woman an opportunity to take a free kick. When he pointed out that their on-field actions did not reflect the ideals of gender equality they had been so vociferous about when making teams, there was a collective moment of consideration, especially among the men. The women too, seemed slightly surprised to have that incongruity called out, but quickly afterward seemed empowered to have some backing to their very real concerns about inequality. Through a series of conversations that week, we discovered some of the intricacies of the gender imbalance in Iringa, and discovered the participants’ collective willingness to address these issues. But at various other moments throughout the week, coaches pointed out instances of participant’s actions and choices that, without noticing it themselves, undermined their stated ideals of gender equality. For several of the men, some of these comments seemed to prompt them to consider how actions and attitudes in their everyday lives were unwittingly promoting very traditional gender roles, and it was exciting to watch them think through how they could make different choices every day that would contribute to a better environment for women in their community. Though the path to complete gender parity in Iringa is long and difficult, the participants’ collective willingness to acknowledge the issue and their efforts to better understand the changes they could make to address it are encouraging signs that seem to show that IDYDC volunteers will be able to have an even stronger impact on their community. I believe that someday, there will be girls playing with the men in the early morning pick-up games in Iringa, and our CAC program there this past week will have been one of many conversations and steps along the way that gradually brought about change in the community.

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  • New Generation Queens

    August 26th 2016. CAC and New Generation Queens assisted a group of high school soccer players on a trip to Zanzibar. Ben Kahrl and Toni Lansbury wrote about their visit.

    When the Zanzibari women came to the field, I recognized several of them and felt like I was meeting movie stars. In fact, I was. Riziki, Little Messi, their coach. I was living what I had seen only on the screen. But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.

    On a very snowy winter afternoon, eighteen months before, two varsity college soccer players had come to my classroom to talk about their experiences volunteering with Coaches Across Continents. I had seen a story about the two women on Harvard’s Athletic Department website and invited them to come and talk. They were inspiring, just a few years older than my students and going off around the world and using soccer to bridge cultural divides. They spoke of how soccer was helping break down cultural barriers, change traditions, and help gain equality in parts of the world that held traditional beliefs about the role of women in society. Then, I heard about women soccer players on Zanzibar and wondered if we could go there too, meet with them, and play a little bit of the beautiful game. Coaches Across Continents had helped Meg Shutzer make a film, “New Generation Queens” about one of the few women’s soccer teams on the island of Zanzibar. Throughout, we could see many of the challenges, and successes, of these women, in playing the game they loved. My own daughter, just thirteen, and several of my own students loved the game. I asked Meg and Nick Gates if we could take a small group of Americans to Zanzibar and play a few games. Indeed, we could and more.

    And so, a year’s worth of planning later, here we were, walking onto Zanzibar’s national stadium. We met with staff from the Ministry of Sport before taking the pitch ourselves with a group of schoolboys. The next hour was full of boisterous play, even while few of the boys spoke English and none of the Americans spoke more than two words of Swahili, but play together we did. A soccer ball in our midst, a few bilingual instructions from the coach, and we were off.

    That night, we drove to the field next to the prison, a scene that looked suddenly very familiar.

    We arrived to find energetic young boys running around, who immediately engaged our players. The sheer joy of seeing our players kicking the ball with a group of adorable six year old boys set the tone. Slowly, the Queens showed up, and there was a little bit of magic in the air. Onto the field strutted Riziki, a powerful presence in the movie and on the field. There was Messi too—another movie “star” who we were now meeting in person, almost seven months after we’d met her on screen. We mixed up the teams so that Zanzibaris and muzungus from America were on both teams, tossed the ball into the middle and were underway. The soccer was fast paced, and attracted a big crowd of passers-by –women in colorful hijabs dotted the perimeter. Men and children were cheering and clapping.

    Five minutes into the game, I found out that, however good-natured these women were, this was not just for fun, as my feet got swept out from under me and my opponent went zipping off with the ball that was no longer in my possession.  At age thirteen, my daughter was the youngest player, and, at age forty-nine, I’d lost more than a step or two. After what seemed like an hour, their coach, who was our referee, blew the whistle to signal halftime….

    One of the parents who was part of our group watched her daughter from the sidelines, as she had countless times before:

    As a parent whose daughter has been playing soccer since she was five, on recreation teams, travel and town teams, club teams and high school varsity teams, and will be playing in college this fall, I have been on the sidelines of hundreds and hundreds of soccer games. This one was different, and one I’ll always remember. With the sun beating down on us, the dirt kicking up, the little boys running with big smiles all around the field, this moment illustrated what I’ve always known to be true– that soccer is a bridge. It’s like a language everyone can speak, as soon as they can kick a ball. It matters little if the players are the same color, come from different geographical places, or religious ones, whether you’re a spectator or a player, soccer breaks down impenetrable barriers and makes a safe place for people to communicate.

    The African sun was making it hard on us, but on we played, back and forth, chattering away in Swahili and English, most of which we didn’t understand, but conversing in soccer, which we all did together. Finally, the whistle blew with a 5-5 tie. We pulled together for pictures and noticed a large crowd had gathered to see the strong woman playing soccer and the American muzungus who had joined them.

    It was the first, but not the last, game we would share.

    Two days later, Fatma Ahmed, our wondrous guide, took our team bus to another field, this one smaller, with a telephone pole planted almost exactly in the middle. A few minutes later, the Women Fighters team showed up. Again, we mixed the teams. Again the soccer was both fun and hard fought. And again, the beautiful game was the common language with us all. Afterwards, as we began to gather in the fading light for a picture, Fatma introduced us to a friend, and casually mentioned she was the coach for the Zanzibar women’s national team. Indeed.

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