10 July 2010

Nhkata Bay, Malawi

After the inspiring Rwanda excursion and exhausting sprint through southern Tanzania, we were ready to slow the pace, check out a few projects, and soak up the beauty of Lake Malawi. The mad dash through Tanzania (as well as adjusting our schedule and not going to Burundi and through western TZ) had recovered a few of the days we lost in Kenya (due to our engine problems).

With a couple of site visits on the books, our plans for Malawi were the best laid of mice and men.

Well, T.I.A. This is Africa.

Logistical misfires meant we did not get a chance to visit with Grassroot Soccer or Coaches Across Continents projects. But football always nearby, even if the pitch we play on features two massive trees at midfield. Unfortunately, we missed the weekly match between travelers “Mizungu United” and the community team. Next time. We spent four days in Nhkata Bay and Nkhotakota, exploring the area, kicking about, and meeting the wonderful people of Malawi. Here are a few highlights:

After a couple of dips in the cool waters of Lake Malawi, an Eli-eagle-watching excursion, hikes up Bungulu hill, and some hearty bartering with local tradesmen, we were ready to get on to Zambia and the final legs of Kickabout: Africa 2010. While we did not conduct any formal visits, we learned a lot about education in Malawi, the popularity of football, and the growing anticipation of the FIFA World Cup.

Big Kickabout thanks to Mayoka Village and Butterfly Lodge - two great socially-responsible places to stay around Nhkata Bay.


23 June 2010

IDYDC (Iringa, Tanzania)

14th May, 2010 (Iringa, Tanzania) – It’s a cool and breezy afternoon here in Iringa and after two straight days in the car from Kigali, Rwanda, we are excited to visit the Zinduka Kapetia Soka Program (Wake Up Through Soccer). Thirty boys and girls, ages 10-14, gather for a little warm-up game before moving into the HIV/AIDS awareness games. They come from the Mkwawa area here in urban Iringa twice a week to learn about HIV/AIDS through the Grassroot Soccer curriculum administered by local coaches. The games are familiar to us. They are the same as we had seen in Nairobi; a testament to the Grassroot Soccer training.

This particular group has been together for three years, and we can see that they care for one another. Today’s lesson focuses on importance of testing; emphasizing that it is the only way to determine if someone has HIV/AIDS. Also addressed are many of the myths that are floating around their community about how HIV/AIDS is contracted.

One of the girls mentions that people in her community believe that if you wear clothes of someone who is HIV positive, “you will catch it through the fabric.” The other children smile and nod in agreement. They are an enthusiastic bunch and most are active participants in the group discussion. We, in turn, wonder how this compares to their participation levels in the classroom. At the end of the four year program, they are tested on their HIV knowledge and then graduate with the hopes that they will not only make good life decisions, but also become youth leaders in their families and communities.

The Zinduka project is one of many in an organization called Iringa Development of Youth, Disabled and Children Care (IDYDC). Established in 1991, IDYDC’s first focus was on providing education, shelter, medical care, and food for orphans, street children, and disadvantaged youth. Support and drop out centers were quickly established in all seven districts of Iringa. Four vocational training schools provide children who fail or drop out of school with skills in carpentry, tailoring, masonry, batik making, gardening, beekeeping, and small farming.

IDYDC’s perpetual “what next” approach led them to create a microfinance program to provide a perfect stepping stone for the educated children and their families. It enables them to submit small business proposals and receive soft loans, putting education to work and responsibility on the shoulders of the youths themselves. The interest generated by the loans provides scholarship money for those that cannot afford to pay for secondary school education. Currently, IDYDC is developing a regional radio program. It will provide a practical method to transmit information about available support programs as well as a means to educate a large amount of people on current health issues at a very low expenditure.

IDYDC’s move to take preventative measures led to their awareness campaign that focused on HIV/AIDS, but later extended to health and sanitation, civic and voting education, alcohol and substance abuse, and family planning. This is where Grassroot Soccer and sport, mostly football and netball, is most valuable. Today they are able to reach communities through both schools and the 700 teams they formed. Coaches are trained as master peer educators, and the players become peer to peer educators in their communities. And it is the hope that the children we are spending the day with take on that role upon the conclusion of this program.

After about one hour, the children are visibly antsy…they know it’s almost time for free play, which means football time. True to their body language, within 30 seconds of the coach’s last word the group separates. The boys have Liverpool v Barcelona on one pitch while the girls are on another, standing in a circle passing the football around with their hands. It is clear they are a little more comfortable playing netball than football. We jump in to challenge the girls with a little football and they respond with shrieks of laughter and bursts of quickness as they chase the ball around the pitch. They don’t have technical skills, but they certainly have the desire and athleticism to play.

Just a short distance away the boys are intensely serious about their game, neither team wanting to defend, yet they are willing to chase any player with the ball the entire length of the pitch. When the games end, everyone is smiling. And after an unnecessary ‘thank you’ to the Kickabout team, the children leave the pitch in bunches - arms around each other.

Iringa raises some important questions about HIV/AIDS rates. The rate here has been slowly climbing since 2003. The 2007 numbers showed that this region was at 15.7% while the next highest region was Mara at 7.7%. IDYDC’s objectives are to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS, address stigma related issues, and teach life skills to youth between the ages of 6-24. Ideally, as the organization achieves their goals, more people will be educated about HIV/AIDS. Is it that Iringa has the highest rate of HIV in Tanzania, or have they been more successful in educating their region such that more people have taken responsibility to get tested?

For more information on IDYDC please visit www.idydc.or.tz or email idydc42@hotmail.com.


18 June 2010

Agahozo Shalom (Rwanda)

Sometimes, no further explanation is necessary.

During our quick visit to Rwanda, we stop by Agahozo Shalom Youth Village (ASYV) just outside of Kigali. There we sat down with Innocent and asked him about life at Agahozo Shalom, a residential school for children orphaned by the 1994 Genocide and HIV/AIDS.

Modeled after the Yemin Orde Youth Village, created in 1953 to care for orphans of the Holocaust, Agahozo Shalom “provides opportunities for children to study, grow, and develop into adults who have the ability and desire to become contributing members of society.” The ASYV is a self-sustaining, independent, special project of The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Inc. (JDC)’s non-sectarian International Development Program.

To learn more, visit Agahozo Shalom Youth Village at http://www.agahozo-shalom.org/.

19 May 2010

Rwanda 16 Years Later

Kigali, Rwanda - Crossing from Tanzania at Rusumo Falls, Rwanda announces its arrival with authority. Sharp climbs up impeccably maintained roads play the role of welcome mat in the Land of a Thousand Hills. It is a simply gorgeous landscape, and you understand immediately an old Rwandan saying, “God is everywhere, but Rwanda is God’s home.” But sixteen years ago, Rusumo Falls would have triggered much different sentiments.

The bridge at Rusumo Falls is a haunting place for those that know the history of the 1994 Genocide. It was here that 500,000 Rwandans fled into Tanzania to escape 100 days of unimaginable bloodshed. While thousands crossed the bridge seeking refuge, the bodies of those less fortunate floated by in the rapids below. The bridge would be nondescript if not for its unfortunate status as an iconic symbol of the Rwandan Genocide. Short, yellow, narrow (but a wonderful piece of scenery), it is hard, if not impossible, to imagine one of the greatest travesties in human history occurring at places like Rusumo Falls.

Two days later, we take a walk up to Nyamarambo Stadium in Kigali to see the quarter-finals of the MTN Peace Cup, an annual knock-out cup competition between all the football clubs in Rwanda (like the FA Cup or US Open Cup). Today’s match pits Araco Sport versus Entilles FC; the former club known as the “taxi men” because it is a team of/for the matatus (mini-bus taxis). The small stadium has a ‘FieldTurf’ pitch and is pleasantly framed by the surrounding hills and neighborhoods. The crowd is sparse (we later learn that the match is free after the second half kickoff – so most casual fans just wait) but the small group of supporters are boisterous and loyal to the cause. The quality of football is poor, as it is throughout east Africa unfortunately. Yet, there is a massive spirit about the game; a fact illustrated by the full-blooded tackles by everyone on the pitch and the occasional spat between a few rival fans sitting not too far from us. Rwandan football is alive and kicking.

Watching Entilles put several goals past the hapless Araco goalkeeper; we reflect on our trip to the Genocide Memorial the day before and wonder about how football has (or has not) played a role in Rwanda’s remarkable resurgence.

Sitting on a hillside near downtown, the Kigali Genocide Memorial is a living sanctuary complete with museum exhibits, memorial gardens, mass graves, and an education center. Understated and soft, the grounds are dignified and stoic and force you to take pause before entering the main building. Taking a moment to collect your thoughts is a good idea because the Memorial pulls no punches. Just in case we were not fully prepared, we notice Rwandans and foreigners all exiting the building in tears or shocked silence. The Genocide Memorial is in a word, unforgettable.

Within the winding tour, you learn about the omens leading up to and the lack of response by the international community to the 1994 Genocide. You meet survivors and hear their stories. You see the remains the artifacts of those that perished. Rwanda’s schism and path to destruction is laid before you with simplistic brilliance. On the second floor an exhibit called “Lost Futures” eulogizes the children who “might have been national heroes.” Bernardin Kambanda was a clever 17-year old who loved football. He was killed with a machete in a church in Nyamata. 10-year old David Mugiraneza wanted to be a doctor, loved making people laugh, and played a many game of football. His final words before being tortured to death were, “UNAMIR (United Nations Mission in Rwanda) will come for us.” The list goes on. And on.

The Rwanda Genocide claimed the lives of almost 1,000,000 men, women and children. More than that were raped and tortured. 2,000,000 fled their homes to Tanzania, Burundi, Uganda and Congo. In 1994, Rwanda’s population was 7,000,000. The genocide lasted just 100 days.

The Kickabout team remembers the summer of 1994 because of the first FIFA World Cup to take place in the United States. Sweltering heat at Giants Stadium, the Argentina-Netherlands match in Dallas, the horrific “denim” jerseys worn by the Americans, and the Colombia own goal that lead to murder. It was the summer soccer arrived in the U.S. of A. While the rest of the world played, Rwanda bled.

Sixteen years later, and we are here to celebrate the FIFA World Cup in Africa for the first time. We find ourselves in Rwanda and bear witness to her amazing recovery and reconstruction. You wander the streets of Kigali and it is impossible to imagine the roadblocks, the murdering hordes, the panic of those destined to die. While the scars are still visible, so is Rwanda’s progress. We absolutely love it here.

Perhaps that’s why football being just football feels so right. It’s just a game because that’s what Rwanda needs – to play, to have fun, to win, to lose, to put in strong tackles, to get up and try again. After the match, the winning team’s supporters roll through town in the back of pick-ups singing, honking, blowing horns, waving flags, and chanting songs of victory. This is not an uncommon scene anywhere in the world. But sixteen years ago, such a scene symbolized the brutal violence that engulfed this beautiful land and its beautiful people.

My, how times have changed.


Meresani Snake Park

From Martin’s Cozy Place (Addis Abba, Ethiopia) to Mayoka Village (Nkhata Bay, Malawi), Kickabout has squatted, camped, invaded, and crashed in places throughout east Africa. Some have been pretty posh (Utengule Coffee Lodge in Mbeya, Tanzania) while others have been less so (Mzoozoozoo in Mzuzu, Malwai). We have yet to meet an unfriendly innkeeper, and for the most part, we’ve made new friends at every stop. One type of place, however, has really earned our respect and future business: the “Drink for Charity” Lodge.

Just outside of Arusha, Tanzania (30km west) you can find Meserani Snake Park. Run by Ma and BJ for the last 18 years, Snake Park is a wild compound composed of campgrounds, a legendary bar, a mechanics’ shop and the best collection of poisonous snakes we’ve ever seen. There’s a $5 entrance fee to see the snakes, birds, crocodiles, and turtles – but the camping is free.

The kitchen is limited, but the bar is fully stocked with beer and liquor. The bar and ‘zoo’ alone is worth a stop, but what puts Snake Park on Kickabout’s “Top Places to Stay” list is its connection to the local Maasai community.

Overland travelers like a good drink. And they know that good drinks are not solitary creatures and enjoy company, especially other good drinks. And the Kickabout crew is nothing if not loyal and well-trained overland travelers. So when we learned that proceeds from Ma’s Bar at Snake Park funded local community projects, we turned our affinity for cold beer into funds for a cultural museum, ladies’ craft market, health clinic, and classroom construction project. Talk about a return on investment!

The Maasai Cultural Museum and Ladies’ Craft Market sits just outside the gates of Snake Park. A local Maasai warrior takes you on a tour of the museum and, for a small fee, on a Maasai walk to learn more about Maasai culture today. (If you fancy a camel ride, they have those too.) Fifteen families own their own shops at the craft market where you can buy wood carvings, jewelry, bowls, fabrics, etc. While the prices are higher than what you can find on the side-of-the-road stalls, the proceeds from this market enable the women to make a decent living and pay for their kids' education.

There is also a medical clinic that treats 800-1000 patients a month. Free of charge. Medicines are purchased by Snake Park via our early afternoon soda, our happy hour cold beers, and our whiskey night cap. Ma’s watering hole also pays for the construction of new water wells. A couple of years ago, BJ led the drilling of a new borehole to alleviate the water needs of nearby Eluai Village. The resulting well produces 4800 liters per hour, enough for Eluai and neighboring Emerete Village. Other projects include building new classrooms to ease the overcrowding in the local primary and secondary schools and hopefully, a home for children orphaned by AIDS.

When we asked Ma about how/why they decided to run their business like this, she said, “When we got here 18 years ago, there was nothing. We just wanted to make a decent living and help out. We don’t want to live like royalty while the neighbors suffer. If a tiny portion of the tourist money goes to making this place a bit better…why would we not do it.”

Cheers to that, Ma. We’ll have one more.

Visit Meserani Snake Park

To contact Meserani Snake Park: mailto:%20snakepark@habari.co.tz


11 May 2010

Alive & Kicking

Have you ever donated or been asked to collect soccer balls to send to a community or organization in Africa?

Kickabout would like to introduce you to Alive & Kicking, a Kenyan organization that makes soccer balls created entirely with Kenyan resources. Hand-stitched by artisans, made with local rubber, and designed to be easily repaired (as the rough 'pitches' tend to rip through our mzungu footballs with ease), Alive & Kicking is wonderful example of a holistic approach to sport for development.

Learn more at www.aliveandkicking.org.uk

03 May 2010

The Ball and Special Olympics

During our Nairobi ‘staycation,’ we got the chance to meet up with our good friends at Spirit of Football and The Ball. For the last three FIFA World Cups, a single football makes its way from the birthplace of organized football to the biggest sporting event on the planet. This is The Ball.

On every journey to the World Cup, many thousands of ordinary people make direct contact with The Ball, whether by chance in the street or by attending events, playing with it, signing it and helping it along its way. The Ball brings the World Cup closer to people who wouldn’t otherwise experience it first hand.

At the same time, The Ball introduces its audience to the great work that its partners are doing — and shows them the vibrant cultures of the places it visits.

Everyone is invited to play.

The Ball 2010 is made by the not-for-profit Alive & Kicking in Kenya. The Ball is visiting Special Olympics projects in Africa, meeting their athletes, coaches and supporters, playing many games of Unified Football and helping to break down negative stereotypes about the intellectually disabled.

A simple idea. A simple game. A wonderful group of guys. An awesome Ball.

Kickabout visited Alive& Kicking, where The Ball was created. More on that soon.

23 April 2010

Carolina For Kibera

Kibera, Nairobi – 14 April 2010.

Southwest of downtown Nairobi, a 2.5 square kilometer area is home to the second largest slum on the continent of Africa. Kibera is our destination today, and we are wondering how a game – yes, the biggest and best game on the planet – could make an impact here. This is a place where a good day is when your biggest challenge is the odor of raw sewage running through the mud-paths.

How can a two-hour training session make a difference?

Ten years ago, Tabitha Atieno Festo, a registered nurse in Kibera, received a $26 grant from University of North Carolina undergrad Rye Barcott. Her plan was to start a vegetable stand. A year later, Rye founded Carolina for Kibera (CFK) and returned to Kibera to start a youth sports program. He was beyond shocked to find Rye Clinic, a community health clinic created by Tabitha from the profits of her vegetable stand. Today, Rye Clnic is now called Tabitha Medical Clinic (renamed after Tabitha’s death in 2004), and it is a hallmark of the Carolina For Kibera (CFK) initiative.

We arrive at Kibera by matatu, a local bus, and walk into the bowels of the slum to find an impressively clean and modern three-story medical clinic. It’s almost impossible to describe how out-of-place this place seems here. Kibera is house of tin cards; a maze of row huts, make-shift shops, knotted power lines, and people. The muddy, garbage ridden pathways are accessible only on foot, and after a downpour the entire area can be a mysophobe’s worst nightmare. We enter the compound and immediately wonder about security. There are computers, benches, labs, and televisions. Our question is met with a smile from Dr. Henry Njenga Njuguna, one of the chief doctors on site and our guide today. Security is not an issue because the community has embraced and recognized the importance of Tabitha Clinic.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have partnered with CFK in order to research causes of morbidity in Kibera through a consensual surveillance program. In turn, the community receives free healthcare and treatment at Tabitha Clinic. Patients seeking care who do not want to participate are charged a small fee. Each day between 200 and 300 patients are seen, and around 30,000 people are involved in the surveillance program. Though it may seem like a large number of Kibera residents are served by Tabitha clinic, estimates of the total population of the slum vary from 600,000 to 1.2 million inhabitants. Dr. Njuguna knows that he has a huge challenge here in Kibera, where the HIV rate is over 50% higher than the national average.

“You see, there is the stigma attached to HIV. People would simply rather not know.”

CFK’s trained staff goes door to door and engages the families in the privacy of their own homes to provide testing and counseling. Surprisingly, we learn that the highest modes of HIV transmission are through married couples, and it represents 40% of new cases.

“Our main health issues here in Kibera are HIV, abortion related problems, tuberculosis, pneumonia, malaria, and simple hygiene. By far…ignorance is our biggest obstacle.”

We leave a bustling Tabitha Clinic to play a little afternoon football with boys and girls in CFK’s Youth Sports Program. Along with Tabitha Clinic and the sports program, CFK also has the Binti Pamoja (Daughter’s Unite) Center, a reproductive health and women’s rights center for girls ages 11-18, and Taka Ni Pato (Trash is Cash) program, a waste management system that maximizes reusable materials and creates jobs for Kibera youth.

As we hike back up to the matatu stop after a fun football session, we reflect on the inspiration that started CFK and what it means in terms of the bigger picture. Tabitha was a Kibera native with a desire and more importantly, a plan to strengthen her community. She started something that has become community run, and thus community owned. No one knows what Kibera needs better than the people who live there.

With that said, perhaps one of the girls from our session today is the next Tabitha.

Click here to learn more about Carolina For Kibera

22 April 2010

Coaches Across Continents and VAP

On a stretch of dirt near the Air Force Landing Grounds, the local and global faces of sport for development meet for a day of football and sharing. Coaches Across Continents is working with Vijana Amani Pamoja (“Youth Together with Peace”) to enhance VAP’s HIV/AIDS and TB education programs.

Along with Andy Old and Anna Rodenbough, Nick Gates weaves lessons about taking care of your body, being smart, and working hard into soccer-centered games and drills. Nick stresses the importance of fun and laughter, his team works closely with VAP Coaches to promote a more hand-on, interactive teaching style.

He’s serious when he says that “smiles per hour” is a metric Coaches Across Continents uses to measure success. Here in the Eastlands, there is a lot of success. Tons.

Vijana Amani Pamoja is a local football club and sport for development organization. Ten years ago, Enouce Ndeche decided to harness the popularity of the club (formerly called CASL) and its players to promote HIV/AIDS awareness in the Eastlands slums. He partnered with Grassroot Soccer to implement GRS’ HIV/AIDS education program and recruited VAP players and coaches to dedicate their time to working young people in Nairobi. Seventeen of his staff of twenty are volunteers. All of them are footballers, with most playing for VAP’s youth and top-flight teams.

At another Coaches Across Continents session, we sit with a few coaches and ask how (or why) they manage to volunteer so many hours when they still have to make a living, pay rent, buy food, and, in some cases, take care of their children.

Elli continues to work with VAP even after completing his degree in Business. “When the other guys in my neighborhood see me in my (VAP) shirt, they are envious. They know I’m doing something with my life and avoiding getting into bad things. I love being a role model.” Former VAP participant and current coach Eddie tells us that before he got involved with VAP he was shy and not very sure of himself. Now? “I can stand proud in front of a large group and teach them football and about life. It’s so great.” Around the group, the stories mirror each other. Everyone of them would like to do this as a paying job (and some do get a small stipend), but they are committed to making sure the kids of Eastlands living long and healthy lives.

“It’s what makes us such great friends. We all believe in this work.”

We see that dedication in action a few days later at a “Mbrembo” picnic in Uhuru Park in downtown Nairobi. Swahili for beautiful (when speaking about a female), Mbrembo is a VAP program that “reveals the inner beauty of girls through sport.” Nancy created Mbremba after she joined VAP and noticed that there was not a girl’s team at the club. She decided to start her own so that she could reach out to young girls and talk about issues like reproductive health, life choices, unwanted/early pregnancies and child survival, abortion, and abuse.

About twenty girls (along with some boys from the same neighborhood) come out to the picnic and get a chance to play a few of the games the coaches learned from Nick, Andy, and Anna. It’s obvious that Coaches Across Continents made an impact; all of the coaches are constantly engaging and encouraging the kids to think, be strong, and be safe. Lorrie sits down with the girls to talk about life as a female athlete. Nancy hopes this will inspire the girls come out more frequently. She mentions how difficult it is to get girls to come out to training during the week. On top of their school work, most girls have a long list of chores to do each day. While there isn’t the same stigma attached to girls playing football as we noticed in other Kickabout stops, most people do not see football as something that can really help girls. It’s a distraction. VAP respectfully disagrees, and Nancy is here to show that football can be a powerful tool for empowering girls and young women.

“I want the girls to see that being a good football player means being strong, dedicated, healthy, and smart. When they are good footballers, they are strong women. Strong women make good choices for themselves and their family.”

Click here to learn more about Vijana Amani Pamoja and Coaches Across Continents

17 April 2010

North Horr Saves

Every Easter, Catholics around the world affirm their belief that their savior gave his life so that their sins would be forgiven. Bless us Father for we have sinned. Team Kickabout worked our Beloved Warthog to the limit, sending her spiraling into a coma for an indefinite amount of time. So, this Easter, Team Kickabout’s saviors came in the form of a trinity of a different dogma: the Father, the sun, and our persisting spirit.

Our Father who art in Northern Kenya, Antony be his name, is the residing priest of the Catholic Mission of North Horr and the surrounding area. A German man of the church, he has officiated here for the last 13 years. This Holy Wednesday, his mission was to say mass in the remote village of Gaas and to rescue the four mzungus stranded just outside the village, delivering them to a place of safety and assistance. This is how Kickabout came to know North Horr and the Catholic Mission.

The Catholic Mission of North Horr is a place where more than just the marooned seek refuge and guidance. In a town where unemployment rates are high and job opportunities are low, people find strength in their community and their faith. They have invested deeply in this parish and family activities center on the church. Younger members band together to form the Catholic Mission’s youth group. Grade level Standard 8 is a required prerequisite to join the youth group, making membership a reward for education and also ensuring that the group members are active thinkers well on their way to becoming contributing members of society.

These kids take their duties to their parish very seriously, leading the choir at every mass and serving as role models to smaller, on looking churchgoers. In addition to their weekly commitments, they also preach in nearby Christian communities during school breaks and attend to the sick and impoverished as needed. When asked why the Mission is important to the up and coming generations of North Horr, Stephen says, “We come here because it helps us realize our faith and to live in faith.”

These teens are living in both faith and understanding. In a mature initiative wise beyond their years, the group promotes harmony between the Christians and Muslims of North Horr, a symbiotic collective unique to this part of the world. From time to time, they host united, interfaith meetings between local youth to discuss both perspectives and apply them to issues facing the town. Naturally, Team Kickabout suggested that the town’s kids meet outside of these formal symposiums to hang out and play some footy (of course the Kickabouters offered to demonstrate as well, playing a pick-up game on Easter Sunday afternoon). If you’d like additional information about the Catholic Mission of North Horr and how you too can help promote understanding across faiths, please contact info@thekickabout.org.

So, Team Kickabout was fortunate enough to spend this holy weekend in observation of the Mission and its faithful, but what of this bizarre aforementioned trinity? While we got to know the good people of North Horr, we witnessed an Easter miracle: four days of sunshine during the rainy season. All of these strong, powerful rays meant that we were granted good roads for our journey to Nairobi. The Father’s gracious aid partnered with ideal driving conditions and our unrelenting tenacity to forge ahead allowed us to plow onward towards Nairobi.

15 April 2010

A River Runs Through Us

Ethiopia from Elias Sinkus on Vimeo.

After we recovered the vehicle we waited for rescue and after a couple of days we transported the car to a small town called North Horr. After a week of negotiation, we were able to transport the car 600 km to Nairobi where it will be repaired. The trip was the Kenyan version of “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” as we clung on top of a lorry on some of the worst roads ever conceived by man.

We are now safely in Nairobi and, while here, we will visit with Coaches Across Continents, and Vijana Amani Pamoja.

Stay tuned for the stories!


11 April 2010

Breaking News

18 days after leaving Addis, we finally arrived safe and (somewhat) sound in Nairobi!

We are putting together some great stories, adventures, videos and pics - but here is a quick preview:

A Flooded Room in Halabra;
Hippos and Crocs in Arba Minch;
Mursi Village in Jinka;
Bush Camping in a Lighting Storm in northern Kenya;
Car Breaks Down in a River;
4 Days with Father Anthony in North Horr;
Towed to 800 km Nairobi mechanic;
Base camp set up at Jungle Junction;

In between it all, we have played some football, held impromptu coaching sessions, watched Champions League and EPL matches in local entertainment halls, and made some incredible new friends.

We'll get details and visuals up soon!

26 March 2010

Sport - The Bridge

Addis Ababa – They come up to our car at stoplights, selling anything from water to plastic flowers. The street children have their own society. There is an understood hierarchy among this group that prevents much fighting among each other, and everyday is about finding food and shelter. There is another option that Sport The Bridge offers, but it is voluntary, and the boys that choose to be here are expected to take personal responsibility for the direction their lives take for the next formative years.

On a government owned plot of land, Sport The Bridge has been able to run their program designed to reintegrate the street boys first with their families and then into school. In the first year of the four year program, the boys come every weekday from 8am-3:30pm. The curriculum is designed to change social behavior through sport and group discussion, with plenty of opportunity to learn discipline and structure. The teachers follow a Swiss developed program called KRAFT Model Programs. Over the course of the program five topics are covered: body, rules, acceptance, fairness, and team. When one topic is completed, the boys are taken to some public institution to further enhance their understanding. For example, after two months of learning about the body, the boys are taken to a hospital to meet doctors and patients.

The boys are integrated back into their families as soon as possible, and the families are encouraged to support the boys in their social and educational development. After the first year, the boys are then integrated into the school system. Sport The Bridge provides uniforms and books, and also follows their school and family progress over the next three years. During this second phase the program is three days a week and the boys are expected to demonstrate the five pillars during sports activities. Of course, everyone’s favorite is football, and we are welcome guests in this respect.

We arrive to 50 or so boys doing a 15 minute Chi Gong session. It is Friday…football day, and the topic these first year kids have been learning is acceptance. We play a game where half of the boys are weaving through a human circle. At the whistle, the people on the circle close the circle by extending their arms. If a runner is touched by any part of the human circle, he is eliminated and must sit in the middle of the circle. At the first whistle it is apparent that cheating and arguing is not uncommon. And though the discussion afterward elicits some very thoughtful reflections from the boys, it all seems like lip service as we move into the football matches. There are complete meltdowns, whining, crying, screaming at each other; I even have to pry a boys hand off of a teammate’s throat and by the look on his face, the intention is not simply to hurt.

It is naïve to think that rolling a football out to a bunch of street-hardened kids is going to change behavior. Furthermore, this is one environment where the boys can express themselves emotionally. Seeing the boys in complete breakdown mode presents an overwhelmingly uphill battle for Sport The Bridge. There is nothing to prevent them from going back to their street life at any point over the four year program.

This is Yonas Mindaye’s challenge. He is the Deputy Manager of Sport here and after five years of teaching elementary school, he wanted to work with these boys. “The best thing is giving them love and seeing their changes in school, family, and life.”

It is difficult to imagine until we talk to the boys about their lives and families. Zirhun Assefa is 15 years old, and the only boy whose compassion towards others visibly stood out. On the street he carried things for people to earn food and shelter money. He was on the street for seven months and joined the program because he wanted to return home but was afraid that his family would not take him back. He now spends every night at home with his aunt and two cousins.

When we ask him why he is so caring of the other boys, he says that he doesn’t really realize that he is doing anything special. “I think it is a good thing and I like to keep their morals.” He tells us that he is eager to start school because he wants to be the first in his class.

Zirhun is beyond his years, and like the boys we met in the second phase of the program, football did not elicit any volatile behavior. Clearly a year in the program makes a huge difference. But it takes time, patience, and an occasional ejection.

Today Gashaw Gebreyohannes receives his second yellow card of the game for intentionally kicking another boy in the ankle in the game right before lunch (his first was for dissent). Ejected and visibly upset, he throws off his jersey in disgust and storms off to pout alone.

All of the boys show considerable respect for Yonas. Even a frustrated Gashaw honors the double yellow. This petit 12-year old boy who heard about Sport The Bridge from some of the older street boys now spends every night at home with his five sisters and one brother. He was selling tissue on the street before, intermittently sleeping at home.

We ask about what he wants for the future he sighs and says, “I want for my mother to make for her a better life. I want to take them away from poverty. I want to be the change maker.”

The silence that follows is all of us taking in Gashaw’s very realistic goal. There are chills and perhaps a little bit of tearing up as we forget about his behavior during today’s match.

Later Gashaw would reflect back on his ejection. “Today’s pillar was acceptance – but I didn’t do it today. I was angry.” And then through a grin he says, “But maybe tomorrow…”

March 19th, 2010
10th of Megabit (7th month), 2002

Click here or the logo to learn more about Sport - The Bridge


25 March 2010

Right To Play: Sefera Selam

In the Village, the Peaceful Village

There is no fancy jungle gym here, just an open space with uneven cobbled ground. This is Sefera Selam, a primary school that sits in one of Addis Ababa’s most impoverished areas. Tons of kids fill Sefera Selam’s schoolyard to participate in this afternoon’s Right To Play activities. The equipment is simple: a couple of pieces of fabric, a few jerseys and some cones. Right To Play makes do with little to no apparatus, but the lessons are rich in values. Right To Play makes leaders.

After a long day of school, the kids are wound up and revving to run. A few of the older, more responsible kids take the helm of this madness. They are Sefera Selam’s designated Right To Play Junior Leaders and have been selected for these positions because of their commitment to the program’s teachings. These four Junior Leaders take their duties very seriously. They help guide the younger participants through the day’s exercises, leading races and games of concentration and balance.

It is impressive to watch them keep the youngsters on task, but even more admiration is found in the way they facilitate the group discussions that follow each activity. Here they pause, opening the floor to the little ones’ opinions and thoughts regarding the games; now we hear the day’s take-away lessons applied.

There is nothing innovative about the idea of a role model. There is nothing technological or expensive involved in nurturing leadership. Right To Play’s vision is to create a healthier and safer world through the power of sport and play and it is doing so by teaching children to look after ones’ self in addition to looking after one another. Some believe it takes a village to raise a child. Here at Sefera Selam, which translates to the “village of peace,” children are raised by the village to, then, raise the village.


24 March 2010

Right To Play: Yekatit 23rd Special Needs

Clap Your Hands. Feel the Love.

Amazing. Simply put, without exaggeration: amazing. There is no better word to describe the positive work that is being done at Yekatit 23rd Special Needs Primary School with the deaf and mentally disabled. The kids are so happy and enthusiastic and the energy and tactile support that the staff members give them in return is remarkable. There is so much hand holding, hugging, singing, signing, and kisses going on that it’s easy to forget that school is in session.

At this Right To Play site, the staff takes Right To Play curriculum and tailors it specifically to the needs of its children. These students are children who have different learning styles and physical abilities than those of the kids in the mainstreamed school and the customized application and adaptations have proven to be more successful in reaching this audience.

Right To Play lessons resonate with the students at Yekatit 23rd because they have been personalized to each individuals learning requirements; teacher’s animatedly sign for the hearing impaired, hold hands to guide those that require physical support, and offer up boundless energy to keep students engaged.

Team Kickabout’s favorite example of Yekatit 23rd’s interpretation of Right To Play's pillars is its use of the “love clap.” The “love clap” is a universalRight To Play action involving a series of claps, hand gestures, and blown kisses and it is used to wrap up a session. Yekatit 23rd Special Needs Primary School , however, chooses to use it when students find themselves in a disagreement. Following a tussle, the collective group offers the “love claps” for those that fought, encouraging them to put the exchange aside because they are friends who love each other.

In standard Right To Play fashion, Yekatit 23rd then partners a “reflect and connect” talk with the “love clap,” posing the question “what can we do to prevent fighting?” Right To Play uses “reflect and connect” discussions to have students apply daily lessons 1) to events from their past, 2) to the activity of the moment, and then 3) to think about how they can use it in a situation in the future. The students at this site participate in discussion to remind themselves and each other of simple ways to avoid conflict. For most of these kids, gentle reminders serve as preventative action.

Fighting aside, this particular program site is a love fest day in and day out. The staff members here are so involved in their students’ learning and parents verbalize how much they appreciate this. The teachers are caring and it’s obvious that the children love them back.

Six months of close quartered living in a Land Cruiser? Before things get too heated, Team Kickabout will be sure to “reflect and connect” on what we’ve learned from our friends in Ethiopia and pull out the “love clap.”


23 March 2010

Right To Play: Megenagna

Megenagna – As one of the poorest nations in the world, Ethiopia can be deceiving. There are signs of wealth everywhere, but off the paved main roads of the city there is a different story. Street children are everywhere. The reasons vary. Some leave to flee abuse, others are kicked out, while some leave in search of what they think is a better life. Whatever the reason, female street children face different dangers than their male counterparts.

“It is very possible to be raped, abused, or even killed,” says Yeshi, one of the 13-year old girls. Although most claim that they are 13, the truth is that many of them simply do not know how old they are. “And some of us have no family, so this is family.”

The family she speaks of is the sisterhood of around thirty girls that live at this orphanage in Megenagna (meg-a-NAN-ya). Coincidentally, the word megenagna means “meeting place,” and the girls, found on the street, are brought here by social workers to join OPRIFS. The main goal of the Organization for Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Integration of Female Streetchildren is to reunite them with their families and promote a healthy family environment. Their Behavioral Observation Plan identifies individual behavioral issues, and an external referral system is used as a supplement to ensure the girls can be treated for problems that OPRIFS does not have the expertise to handle. During their three to six month stay here at the orphanage the girls are given Alternative Basic Education, which includes AIDS/HIV education, leadership training, and social education through sport. It is the sport program we see today, and it is administered by an OPRIFS worker trained by Right To Play in their signature Red Ball Child’s Play module.

Upon arrival we are met by a stone-faced (she was all smiles when we departed) female security guard who lets us into the orphanage complex. The small area has a dorm, classroom, wash facilities, and of course a small open area to play. We greet everyone and two minutes later we join the girls in a warm-up game of tag and a follow the leader directional game. Trained youth leaders run group discussions about the life lessons associated with a series of games.

Gadise stands out, both as the strongest youth leader and for the tattoo on her jaw line, a distinguishing characteristic of the different rural communities in northern parts of Ethiopia. From beginning to end, she pays attention to everyone, making sure all the girls are active participants. It is clear that the girls care for one another and that the staff and youth leaders foster these relationships. Gadise believes that the girls must change their own lives. “God gave us this shelter. We must find families.” Knowing well that not all girls have blood relatives, she meant that every girl here must actively be involved in a family unit.

In what begins as an introduction to the Kickabout team, Ashley is prompted to demonstrate some West African dance that she has studied at the University of Minnesota. She is nervous at first, not wanting to mess up. But dance, like football, serves to connect and no common verbal language is necessary. Wonderfully, what she starts is a celebration of individual expression. (see below)

A dance circle forms, and different girls come forward to demonstrate their regional and tribal dances. Interestingly, the girls that dance are different than the girls that are verbal leaders or that dominate the games. There is no one way to lead, and this group appreciates the uniqueness of each individual’s leadership capabilities. They celebrate everyone, and afterward we break for tea and roasted barley, and get to know a little more about the man that cultivates this atmosphere.

Hussein Abamacha is the primary social worker here at the orphanage. Physically disabled, he was a street child himself before a social worker collected him from the street and sent him to get an education with an organization similar to that of OPRIFS. Hussein received training to be a teacher and then joined OPRIFS. Three years ago he was trained by Right To Play National Training Office, Melaku Tekola, in the Red Ball Child Play program. The once shy, quiet man lacking confidence now sports a bright yellow “YOU CAN” tee shirt.

“Through OPRIFS and Right To Play training I have learned a lot about myself. I use my training and communication skills to make relationships with others and help these children to have a better life.” With the sport development training he can also now do physical exercise with the children. Smiling, he explains, “I have forgotten about my physical disability.”

Hussein shines as a role model both for disabled Ethiopians and for the young girls that he teaches. He doesn’t see himself as a leader, but everyone else sees his personal success, love for his work, and determination to improve the lives of others as inspirational.

Eli puts it best when he explains to Hussein, “My friend…when you smile, the girls smile, the other staff smile, we smile, and then finally, the security guard even smiles.” Laughter ensues and we can only hope Hussein realizes how extraordinary he is.

March 18th, 2010
9th of Megabit (the 7th month), 2002