Where do I even begin?
Without getting overwhelmed yet again thinking back on my trip since I’ve been home, I’ll start at the beginning and go from there.
I flew from Vancouver where I met part of our Right To Play crew, my crew for the next 5 days of my life. Scott Sandison is the International Athlete Ambassador Corespondent, my boss for the trip, and a fellow Athlete Ambassador, Emily Cook. Emily is on the US. Aerials Team. The things she does in the air on skis is amazing.
I knew already that Emily had been to Africa with Right To Play before, so I wanted to take in her information, her words of guidance for the days ahead. We watched the sun set twice in transit to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania via Zurich, Switzerland and Nairobi, Kenya, a long journey to say the least. We arrived in the evening and drove to our hotel. Sleep was calling our names.
In the morning we met our third Athlete Ambassador, a member of the U.K Skeleton Team, Shelley Rudman. Tobogganing down a rock hard ice track 130k head first anyone? Not only a dedicated athlete like the rest of us, Shelley is a mother to a 5yr old. Her sense of humour with that British accent cracked me up constantly throughout our days excursions.
We visited 8 places in the next three days all around the city of Dar. The word surreal comes to mind often thinking back on my trip. “surreal adj having the disorienting, hallucinatory quality of a dream; unreal; fantastic”. It was unreal, fantastic, and definitely dreamlike…
I can’t say I had any expectations for this trip. I didn’t know what I was in for, so I took it all in from childrens’ dusty shoeless feet running around the stone filled fields to the many hands clutching mine throughout our days as we danced, played and learned together, as one group.
Before heading off to our first location for the day, we drove to the Tanzania Right To Play Headquaters to meet our local counterparts and the rest of our crew for the week!
I was excited. After meeting Monica and Josephine, and the rest of the staff we quickly learned and performed a loud Right To Play welcome chant all together holding hands. We then sat down in a room for a presentation. Maybe I was a little too excited. As water was passed around and I went to reach for my bottle, crash went my water bottle on top of the projector and the presentation was over before it had even began. Well done, great first impression… The water bottle was unopened, and the presentation was up and running in no time. Thank the lord.
After learning about the programs in the country and the work involved, we drove through the crazy jam packed streets of Dar to a school that had been working with Right To Play for 3 years. The kids were already working with their coaches on the field, each in separate groups when we arrived. We were told to “jump in, go learn and have fun”. So, off I went. I ran over to a group, joined hands with two beautiful children and started stuttering along attempting to join in in a Swahili song. One child broke away from the circle, ran into the middle and started dancing. The child then danced their way in front of someone in the outer circle. The chosen person on the outside would attempt (key word for me) to mimic the dancing of the child in the inside of the circle, then they would switch. Of course within minutes of joining in this game as I was trying to learn Swahili, a language absolutely not prevalent in Canada or the European Alps, a child was dancing right in my face, expecting me to copy her. Instantly I let go of any inhibitions or nerves I had and started shaking my booty with her. She was beaming.
It was after the games in each group I took part in that the real essence of what this organization is all about truly spoke to me. After the children learned what the anticipated game would teach them, they would sit down quietly in front of their coach and reflect together about what educational tool was achieved, such as prevalent disease prevention, self esteem, leading a group, following a fellow student, and confidence. Each child was attentive and eager to answer the questions their coach was asking them. These children were as young as 8 years old! The coaches asked questions such as ‘what did you learn from this game?’ or ‘how does this affect your daily life outside of our activities?’ I was absolutely blown away with the connection the children had with their coaches, how engaging they were, and when translated for me, how thoughtful and attune each child’s answer was. The morning was a overwhelmingly magical.
The next two days were filled with so many more magical moments. My life changed in Tanzania. We visited 6 Right To Play programs: three schools, a youth centre, an orphanage for aids/HIV positive children, and a shelter compound for street children. Some of the programs had only been established within weeks of our visit.
What amazed me the most was the different emotions I had during and when we left each location. Each place was entirely different to the next. I didn’t need to be fluent in Swahili, at all, to be engaging and interact with the children. On day 2 the rain started to come down strong. I was waiting underneath one of the many school’s classroom’s exposed concrete structure. I was interacting with the crowd of children on the other side of their metal gated window frames. We didn’t speak one word of the same language and after 10 minutes of constant laughter and smiles we had exchanged an African hand shake for a Canadian one. I took home so much more than I ever could have anticipated even if I had set expectations for my trip. Something so simple as watching hundreds of children break a part and form their respective circles with their coaches was a vision to watch. I kept on thinking as I saw this happen over and over again how long it takes us North American teachers and coaches of activities for the kids we teach to form something so simple as a circle. Kids don’t listen the first, second or third time you ask them to form a circle. By the 5th time, they are still drinking their Powerade, eating potato chips and talking about last night’s X Box session they had for 3 hrs. A circle. How hard can it be? These moments of perspective I had were endless. The shelter for children with aids/HIV was a powerful few hours for all three of us Athlete Ambassadors I think. It was our last stop all together. Compared to the schools we visited, the group of children was much smaller and a wide range in age. Seeing their compassion for one another throughout our games took my breath away. The older teenagers treated the young ones as their own, like they were all one family.
Moments like these will be forever with me.
This unbelievably successful organization speaks for itself. Numbers don’t lie people. Right To Play’s programs with 13,500 integrated trained coaches in over 20 countries around the globe such as Ghana, Rwanda and Pakistan reach 1,000,000 million children a day. Yes, a day! 49% of these children are female. These numbers are astounding. The impact Right To Play has on children that I witnessed in Tanzania was less than 1% of the total children the organization affects. What affects me now, sitting in a coffee shop attempting to put my thoughts into words, is the amount of work that needs to continue!
I was blessed to experience what I did on my trip, but that was just the beginning. Along with the rest of the 300 world wide Athlete Ambassadors, it is my responsibility to make a change, to help affect more children around the globe.
I am pleased to say that I am in the making of doing just that. I’ll say it again and again, “a small change can make a big difference”. One of the most positively infectious, hard working, and inspiring woman I know, a close friend of mine named Sandra McDonald, is making a small change. Sandra is planning on cycling from the Canadian west coast down through America, to the most underprivileged counties in Central America. Sandra is cycling to raise money for Right To Play. I am thrilled to be apart of this journey and help her fundraise for this life changing and empowering journey. Stay tuned for further details about our trip and fundraising details!