The power of sport

Hi everyone, I hope life is treating you well.

I recently went on a 9 week trip to Tanzania, to conduct research into how to encourage more girls and women to be involved in sports. The assumption in this research is, which I do happen to wholeheartedly believe, that sport has the ability to positively affect upon people’s lives and help towards a happy and healthy future.

I found it difficult to sit down and write while I was away when on many days I found myself dejected and frustrated, rather than inspired and motivated. However, I do try to see positives in everything, in this case I feel spurred on to let you all know some of the positive things I learnt throughout my time in Tanzania, and equally in the time I’ve spent back on home turf.

I’ve been back from Tanzania for over 4 months now and in the time I have reflected upon, written and submitted my research.  I have really appreciated the perspective that I’ve gained from being back in the UK, especially in terms of turning negatives into positives.

I want to share with you are examples I witnessed of the positive impact that sport is having on young people’s lives in Arusha and Dar es Salaam. I had the best time watching the Olympics and Paralympics this summer and I think it’s possibly one of the easiest times to convince people about the power of sport to change people’s lives and inspire a nation- certainly to the UK population anyway. Sadly, it’s not that easy to persuade people in Arusha- at least not yet. The attitude to sport is mixed and although a lot of negative attitudes towards sport came out of my interviews, I feel today (like every day) it’s good to start with the positives.

I met many people, young and old, who had taken a chance on sport as a means to improve their own lives or the lives of others in their community. Although a small proportion of Arusha society engage with sport, if you look in the right places you can see a sports culture that will inspire you just as much as Mo Farah doing the double in London. There are a few examples in particular that I’d like to share;

Firstly, Future Stars are a football academy solely existing in Arusha training young girls and boys from all parts of society. What is so great about Future Stars is that they integrate not only boys and girls, but children who are extremely poor with children from wealthy families. This is quite a rare occurrence in a culture in which the poor and the rich rarely cross paths. Children who attend international schools, often from western origins, go to school and live in areas that are guarded and ‘sheltered’ from the busy streets and crowded slums. What is so great about Future Stars is that they provide a ‘level playing field’ where children can exercise their rights simply as children, by playing football with other children, regardless of their race, education level or money- it just doesn’t matter.

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Secondly, I was really inspired by a youth centre known as the Buguruni youth centre which I came across on my visit to Dar es Salaam. The centre is based at a local school, after school hours, in one of the poorest wards in Tanzania’s capital city. Walking around Buguruni can be a risky thing for a child; with high crime, prostitution and very poor sanitation being some of the main characteristics of the place. The Buguruni youth centre is something for the young people of Buguruni, by the people of Buguruni. With no external funding, Buguruni sustains itself simply on the desire of a community to help one another and improve their own lives. In an interview with one of the young girls who had been attending the centre since she was 11 (she is now 20), she stated that when she came to Buguruni to play sport it was the happiest time of her day as she could release all of her worries. She stated that most days there is not enough food to feed her family and if it wasn’t for Buguruni she fears that she may have been forced to fall into bad ways. Most of the children taking part in the activities I witnessed were extremely poor- but you would not know. They were training hard, enjoying themselves and had a great deal of respect for their coaches.

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Sticking with Buguruni to finish off this rare blog, one of the biggest inspirations about this centre is the lack of dependence on foreign aid or external help. This was a community initiative by and for the community and well, cheesy as it is- Buguruni has a small place in my heart now.

From these two experiences I saw that sport can unite, heal and fundamentally bring hope into the lives of some of the poorest people in the world. When I’m having a low day and questioning whether or not significant change can happen in the parts of Tanzania I visited, I just think about Buguruni and soon I’m filled with optimism and hope.

Have a good week,

Ollie

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Obligations.

Hello

So I’ll be honest with you, I have been struggling to write a blog since I arrived here in Arusha. Not from lack of trying and certainly not from lack of ideas; I have done more reflection here than I have in the last ten years, or perhaps longer. I have started to write on at least 5 occasions and failed miserably (something which happens quite often when it comes to my essay writing at uni).  I just have too many thoughts… However, one of the things I am very conscious of, is spending so much time reporting and documenting my experience that I don’t actually experience. It’s funny because my main purpose out here is to document almost everything that I do, as I am learning; pretty much everything that happens is valuable to research.  Not just things that are happening in the work place, not just my interviews, but day to day social interaction. If anything this is so much more important. Every single day I learn something new about Tanzanian culture, I wonder if I am ever going to ‘get it’. People’s lives are so simple, yet their culture is so complex. How can this be?

With all my thoughts, I really feel I could write a novel. But then, getting these thoughts in to some kind of logical narrative is proving so difficult.  So for now, I’m going to just focus on one thing. One aspect of Tanzanian culture which has opened my eyes, and helped me see a little clearer. Obligations.

I have come to know a family who live near me and this has really given me an insight into the way people live here. They are a large family of two parents and, what I first thought, 9 children. However, the family situation was a lot more complex than I first thought. Two of the boys are related in some way to the family (distant cousins of some sort I think) but not brothers like I first assumed. Here, if family approach your household, usually because their parents are dead or unable to look after them, you are obligated to take them in. This involves supporting their education even (if you have the financial means that is). So, these two boys are the fortunate ones, they are getting a place to stay and their education paid for. Quite often if a child loses his parents he faces a life on the streets.

However, still I look at the lives of these two boys, ‘the lucky ones’, and see how unfortunate they are.  See, they have obligations too. They are part of the family, but then at the same time they are not. With not being immediate family they are responsible for most of the chores and they have very little freedom to do anything. The thing is, they don’t even ask to. Obligations are so culturally embedded people often don’t even question it. It amazes me that they may not even dream that they could go out and meet people and engage in activities, such as sports. As cliché as this is; I really do feel lucky.

See, when I look at my life and I look at the obligations I have I honestly don’t have any. I choose to have obligations to my family and friends. I will be there for them whatever. But if I didn’t want to, I wouldn’t have to. When we’re 18 we can do whatever we want. Something I failed to say, purposely, until now is that these boys are 22 and 25. Not really boy’s right?  But, they have obligations to the family that have taken them in and there life is pre-determined by them. They just don’t have a say at all. Once they are home after college they have to stay indoors and do chores. And they don’t complain, because they know how fortunate they are.

I am here to try and find solutions to getting more youth, primarily young girls, participating in sports (from age 12-25). It is things like obligations to family that get in the way, but do I have a right to question this when they don’t even question it themselves? So far in my career I have focussed on helping street children because they are the lesser fortunate. But in a way, they are so much easier to help because they have no obligations, as they have no family. They have become disconnected from a culture of obligations. Granted there are a lot of issues and barriers, which I will discuss next time (I am aware I’m going on a bit…), to engaging street children. However, it is the deeply embedded cultural traditions in the households that are proving to be the biggest barrier to participation so far.

Thanks for taking the time to read this… Tanzanian’s always say ‘feel free’ here (Ironic I know…). So, feel free and enjoy your day.

Ollie.

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Footballers are human after all.

I thought my blog would be a good opportunity to share a few thoughts for Muamba. His collapse took us all by surprise as a particularly sad thing to occur to such a young, seemingly fit and healthy man. I hope and pray that he will be ok. However, I don’t want to dwell on the negatives. I believe the global reaction of the public and the unity of concern and hope for the young man is one of the most positive events I have experienced for a while. I think a lot of people are worried and cynical about the direction to which football is going, ‘it’s too commercial’ and footballers just ‘do what they want’. And quite honestly, most of the recent news on footballers backs these claims. But, with the reaction that we have witnessed to Muamba we have seen the football world and beyond unite with sympathy and care.

This brings me to the main space where I viewed this unitary reaction. Facebook. Messages spread across Facebook instantly from not only Bolton fans, but Tottenham fans, fans of the game and even cynics of the game. What this has shown is that there are things more important than football, and what the crowd did yesterday was truly admirable. For me, this has also demonstrated the positive aspects of social media websites. Facebook is often seen in a bad light as a virtual space that people obsess over themselves and others, in replacement of real life interaction. But yesterday Facebook was a tool which people used for passing on their messages of sympathy, as well as looking for support. As a particularly traumatic event for those people who watched the game, Facebook updated the concerned on Muamba’s condition. I for one am thankful for the consolidation that the updates, and the wonderful messages that people shared from all over the world, provided me with.

What really struck me was the statement by former assistant manager for Bolton, Phil Brown who said;

‘You have to pay tribute to the Spurs fans and you have to pay tribute to the actual players for what went on last night in the footballing world. A lot of people don’t think footballers are human but I witnessed that last night. It was first class.’

It was first class, and maybe it will make people think twice before judging footballers and the football industry. I certainly will.

I also want to add something else to this message as for me this event coincides with the sad news of the death of one of my teachers from school. Mr Best passed away last night and again, what I’ve witnessed is a huge amount of support and unity from past and current pupils of all kinds of personalities and from all subject areas. Even though we have all left Durham School, Facebook has given us the chance to come together and share our respects and reminisce over a true legend. Today my perspective on the world has tilted slightly, it gives me great faith to see people unite in times of need and realise what truly matters.

What could be better than this? Well, what I have come to think of is that every day there are atrocities and deaths, and every day people are suffering for all kinds of reasons. It might be that it’s occurring thousands of miles away in Afghanistan; it might be the sudden collapse of a professional footballer or the death of someone’s school teacher. And, people could be suffering closer than you think. So why not think about those things that truly matter every day?

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Hello world!

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