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

22 March 2010

Sudan: Discovering and Playing

Sudan from Elias Sinkus on Vimeo.

Just outside the Royal City in the middle of nowhere, a little girl leads a blind man. She is small – underdeveloped for her age due to a lack of necessary nutrients – but her vision is good. Her eyes have been offered up to guide her uncle. She has to help. Her uncle is the sole breadwinner, selling his carvings and the random trinkets he finds.

Our connection to Vitamina goes back a few years to a time before the Kickabout set foot in Sudan. Tom and Maria met a younger, more frightened Vitamina the last time they were here. On that particular trip, they traveled extensively throughout three different countries, but the image that stuck closely to their hearts was one of a wide-eyed Vitamina, skittish, yet carrying out her family duties.

Imagine Vitamina’s surprise when these foreigners returned three years later to visit her specifically. Maria, beyond excited, came armed with a token of friendship, gifting the growing girl a bold red scarf. Maria thoughtfully selected the color of this present due to its association with power and strength. Surprised by such a gesture, Vitamina accepted the gift, standing tall with a huge smile on her face, the fabric’s vibrant hue complementing her skin beautifully.

Eli came bearing a different kind of small red gift, as he pulled out a soccer ball and asked the kids if they wanted to knock the ball around. The boys jumped at the chance, but Vitamina, swaddled in her new red wrap, watched from the sidelines along with the other girls. She was momentarily relieved of her obligations, as her uncle was off at a distance peddling his goods, but she was still shy to participate with the boys.

Encouraging the girls to be girls, Maria got in the game. The sight of a grown woman chasing a ball inspired the girls to join in the fun. Sun blaring down on the desert, the laughter of child’s play erupted throughout the village.


21 March 2010

11th of Megabit (the 7th month), 2002 *

After two weeks of camping in the 110 degree heat of the Nubian and Bayuda Deserts, it is easy to see how so many powerful armies perished trying to conquer all of Nubia. There are also the 3,000 year old tombs that still hold original colors and the untouched ruins of ancient temples and pyramids, some of which sit amazingly in people’s backyards. We are overjoyed with the exclusivity of exploring without the hoards of vacationers and hassling vendors that plague the more popular sites of neighboring Egypt. But far above everything in Sudan, we have fallen in love with the unprecedented hospitality of the Sudanese people. We imagine what it would be like if a group of Sudanese came walking through our yard and we halt everything to insist that they come in and spend the afternoon drinking tea with our families. There is a pang of sorrow with the realization that this is not a part of American culture. With that said, we cross into Ethiopia ready to start a new chapter in our journey.

After very little red tape and no police checkpoint at the border town of Metema we are in Ethiopia, home of the Ark of the Covenant, the source of the Blue Nile, and arguably the cradle of humankind. The official language spoken in Ethiopia is Amharic and it has its own unique script, with over 200 characters that denote syllables rather than letters. The traditional food here is injera, a large spongy pancake that is used to scoop stew, meat and vegetables by hand from a shared plate.

At the border we enjoy a quick lesson as we learn some important Amharic words like ‘hello,’ ‘goodbye,’ ‘diesel,’ ‘thank you,’ ‘water,’ and a few numbers. Immediately noticeable in speaking with the Ethiopians is a quick inhalation of air used in a similar fashion to our use of ‘uh-huh’ in conversation. After the brief introduction to the Ethiopian culture we start climbing towards Gondar and the southwestern edge of the Simian Mountains, one of Africa’s largest ranges and home of Ras Dashen, the highest peak in Ethiopia (4620 meters). Unlike Sudan, there are people and animals everywhere along the road. We are told by a pair of Brazilian travelers at the border that the three things to watch out for in the road are cows, donkeys, and children. It is soon apparent that the children have the most sense of the three when a car is approaching. Donkeys don’t care about anything, goats and sheep are erratic, and cows just cross with the masses. One thing is clear: the reason why it is a big no-no in every overland book to travel at night is because of the animals.

After seeing Lake Tana and a small, pre-rainy season Blue Nile Falls, we head south to the magnificent Blue Nile Gorge. The beauty of the drive can only be experienced fully over the 30 km stretch of road that drops from 2,500 meters to 1,200 meters and then back up the other side after crossing a small bridge over the Nile. We pay the price for the beautiful drive as the climb exposes some car issues that the level terrain of Sudan couldn’t.

Despite what other overlanders have told us, the yells of “Faranji! Faranji!” are not accompanied by hurled rocks. Perhaps we smile and wave before they can take any such action, or it is simply a case of an exaggerated tale…or maybe we are just lucky. In any case, our experience with northern Ethiopians is very pleasant.

After a few hundred miles of spectacular scenery (and a little car trouble), we descend upon the city that is the home of Lucy, the most famous 3.5 million year old skeleton, who was found in 1974. Even though she’s not the oldest remains ever unearthed, her notoriety is enough that we cannot see her at any point during our visit to Addis Ababa. And this may be the most disappointing thing about the entire trip thus far. No joke, she is currently on tour visiting none other than the United States of America.

It is difficult to imagine that a nation of such beauty is also one of the worlds poorest. The Prime Minister’s Palace, about half a mile up the hill from the President’s, overlooks the hills of Addis Ababa and the entrance gates of the immaculate Sheraton sit amid the shanties, making it seem like more of a monstrosity than an oasis. We take advantage of the fast Internet there, but we prefer the atmosphere of our little hostel in the Bole Road area on the other side of the city.

Before the arrival of our final Kickabout Africa 2010 team member, ‘Brain,’ we have two project sites to visit. We are spending three days with the orphans and street children of Addis Ababa through the programs of Right To Play and Sport - The Bridge.

* Of course the date explanation is saved for last as a special treat for those who have stuck out this diatribe. In 1582 when the Christian world dropped the Julian calendar for the Gregorian calendar, Ethiopia did not. So Ethiopia remains seven years and eight months behind what most of the world has come to see as the correct date. They have a 13-month calendar that begins on September 11th. What we find a little easier to wrap our heads around is the Ethiopian time. Their 24-hour clock starts at our 6am, which coincides sometime around sunrise. For the areas around the equator where the sunrise and sunset do not have a variable nature according to time of year, it is brilliant to begin the day with the sunrise.


16 March 2010

Kickabout Sudan

In Wadi Halfa, after crossing the border and waiting for the cars to arrive (two separate ferries), we found a local hang out and caught the Egypt-England match.

It was an incredible scene and a testament to the popularity of soccer. Dozens of folks, mostly men, surrounded a single TV. We were welcomed with open arms and a few smirks when Lorrie told them she was a footballer. (One of the longest running stories is Lorrie baffling men with her footy skills. A lot of them have never seen a female soccer player and usually challenger her to prove it. A few megs later, their doubt disappears. Marriage proposals soon follow.)

Throughout the trek across Sudan, you could always count on finding a football match as the sun began to set. When the heat of the day begins to wane, it's time to kickabout. Informal. Competitive. Open. The pick-up games are great fun.

Making our way to Khartoum, we check out ancient artifacts and learn a ton about Sudan and Nubian history. One of the real highlights came at the ruins of the Royal City of Meroë.

After our visit to the tombs, Tom and Maria wanted to go visit a man named Umda. Umda himself was not the object of their affection, but instead his young niece named Vitalmina. The last time they visited the Sudan they encountered Umda, sitting outside of the Royal City near Meroe, and noticed a small, shy young lady who was charged with leading him around. She was his eyes. They fell in love with her 3 years ago and Maria had carried a scarf along for Vitalmina that she had saved for her.

When we arrived at the gate of the royal city, we found no Umda, only a small boy. We inquired after Umda and the boy hopped in the Land Cruiser with us and directed me to Umda’s house. Umda, having lost his sight, developed an impeccable memory for voices and remembered Tom and Maria by voice! At first the kids were shy and while the crew sat inside of Umda’s hut waiting to take chai with him, I decided to pull out the ball and kick it around with them.

As soon as I pulled out the ball, the wall between us fell. I started by kicking it to one of the boys, who then kicked it directly back to me. Next to one of the girls. She knocked it back. It went on like this for a little while until everyone was comfortable.
An errant kick sent 3 or 4 of the kids chasing after the ball. Then it began. The game of “dribble until you lose it.” The boys and girls were laughing and kicking the ball; the girls went over and grabbed Maria, even convincing her to play. It was a wonderful experience, playing with these kids who had noting and watching them laugh.

When it was time to leave, none of them asked for money. None of them asked for food. They didn't ask for anything. After a week of bartering, haggling, negotiating, saying no/yes/no/yes, etc., I was more than expecting the kids to ask for a ball, at the very least. These beautiful children, who have very little and yet, ask for nothing, humbled me. Seeing the great fun they had playing, giving the ball to them was the least I could do. But before I handed the ball to Umda to hold for the kids we made them promise that they would share the ball, play every day, and INCLUDE THE GIRLS!

They all agreed and the ball was theirs. As we drove away, Awad remarked to us in a quiet voice, “You made them very happy today.” As the dust gathered behind us, we drove off. “Very happy.” Awad repeated.


07 March 2010


As the team makes their way to Khartoum, they have been stopping at local villages to play pickup games and tell the Kickabout story.

Speaking of a great story: Zulu is one of the 11 official languages of South Africa and the soundtrack for one of the country's most revered soccer broadcasters, Zama Masondo.

What's your favorite "GOAL" yell?

02 March 2010

Egyptian Paralympic Committee

February 22nd, 2010 – Cairo, Egypt – The hustle and bustle of 16 million people is drowned out five times a day by the stereophonic musical chanting of the many mosques in Cairo. To Westerners, the excessive use of the car horn and complete disregard for any sort of lane markings or direction is a bit overwhelming. Mix in the people playing Frogger and its extraordinary that more ambulance sirens are not heard.

“You must have eight eyes to drive here,” Dr. Ashraf Marei says smiling as he drives calmly amidst the hoard of automobiles and pedestrians with only his arms. He is a board member of the Egyptian Paralympic Committee, a professor of adapted physical education at Helwan University, and a paraplegic.

He has arranged for us to visit their program at the Cairo Sporting Club. Situated on an island in the Nile, it seems to be removed from the noise of the city despite being in the middle of Cairo. While the normal membership fee is 75,000 Egyptian Pounds (around $15,000 USD), both the physically and intellectually disabled children in the program are given free access to this club five days a week for activities that range from swimming, basketball, volleyball, tennis, and athletics to camping, music, art, and of course…football. Ms. Shadia Kamal is responsible for the 50 children including her son, ages five to twenty-two, who show up here at Cairo Sporting Club.

The program started in 1993 and the first group of intellectually disabled children in the program has been developing together for over 15 years. We have the privilege of playing football with many of this group, who are now around 21 years of age. It is dependent on volunteers, many of whom have children in the program. The Egyptian Paralympic Committee’s aim is to give the children some independence and increase their ability to develop both physically and mentally through exercise.

The boys run through a series of drills that improve their passing, dribbling, and shooting. I jump into the warm-up jog and stretch remembering how achy I was after our last little kickabout with the kids in Wadi Rum. My partner is Ahmed, Ms. Shadia’s son. As we pass and dribble, I note how proficient everyone is and, although their reactions are not quick, their technique is excellent.

At the end, Eli and I join in for a big 5 v 5 game. The game is supposed to end at 6 p.m., but our game is getting intense as the score quickly jumps to 2-0. Eli and I gather our team together and although we don’t speak Arabic and they don’t speak English, it is clear that the five of us are on the same page…we have to get back into this game. We respond to make it 2-1…then they score again, 3-1…4-1…4-2. There is no possible way we are stopping until some external force tells us kids that it’s getting dark and it’s time to go home for dinner. Finally, at 6:45 p.m. someone calls the game as the parents have been waiting for over half an hour. We lost 5-3 but it was a wonderful game among old and new friends. We gather for a quick photo and they start singing a chant that we don’t understand, but that we recognize as something in celebration of a great evening of football.

Ms. Shadia is all smiles as Ashley, Eli, and I thank her profusely for allowing us to share the day with the boys. She tells that one of the boys couldn’t walk when he first came to Cairo Sporting Club. It is a testament to the way this program has allowed this group to develop as all of the boys were able to run, kick, change direction, dribble, and of course perfectly execute a goal celebration.