As I criss-cross Africa in my volunteering for Coaches Across Continents I get to spend a lot of time walking and trying to get lifts on planes, trains, buses, taxis, boats, dhows, bicycles, minibuses, dalla-dallas, rickshaws, hitchhiking (only once so far) and any other types of transportation you can think of. Due to Africa time, where schedules are very loosely based on the clock and nothing seems to run or work according to plan this leads to a lot of waiting. Lots. Of. Waiting. Which gives me quite a bit of time to think. And in my travels from my last assignment in Geita, Tanzania I headed across the Serengeti on safari, spent a few days relaxing on white sand beaches on the island of Zanzibar, and visited a friend in Harare, Zimbabwe. This meant I travelled by many different forms of transport, and spent a lot of time waiting. And thinking. And waiting. And thinking. And waiting and thinking some more.
And finally a thought came to me. I am the only person who has seen first-hand the impact of the three various stages of Coaches Across Continents’ Hat Trick Initiative. Since the program is only in its third year of existence, there is only one program that has completed the Hat Trick Initiative, and that is Kigoma, Tanzania. I was one of two coaches (the other was Tracy) who saw first-hand this program in its final year working with CAC. And since I have also worked at other programs who are in year 1 and year 2 of their partnership (and Tracy has not) I have the distinction of being the only coach who has seen the effectiveness and implementation of Coaches Across Continents’ Hat Trick Initiative at all three stages.
Year One – WhizzKids United, Durban, South Africa and Geita, Tanzania
Year Two – Play Soccer Malawi, Blantyre, Malawi
Year Three – Kigoma, Tanzania
Since I have this unique perspective of the various stages of implementation of the Hat Trick Initiative, I felt it was my duty to look back to my eighth grade social studies education with Tina Yalen (shameless plug for a friend) and COMPARE and CONTRAST these three different communities and their different stages of progress and see if any patterns or observations emerge.
Year One (programs: WhizzKids United and Geita District, Kigoma)
Both programs have great leadership and vision. Where CAC fits in was a bit of a mystery in both places on arrival. However it was clear that both groups could benefit from a partnership with Coaches Across Continents. And in both cases that benefit came in the assistance of professional coaching/training. With WKU they have many community-based volunteers that implement their 16-week curriculum that uses soccer to teach about HIV. This curriculum has been developed over many years and has won the respect and admiration of many important entities. In fact, the work that is being done by WKU has allowed them to become partners with FIFA and their recently opened Edendale Health Academy is now going to combine with a FIFA Football for Hope Center. Clearly Coaches Across Continents was not needed to improve their already stellar curriculum. However many of their volunteers do not come from football backgrounds. Most are teachers and only a few have played the game at a high level. Coaches Across Continents was able to provide some aspects of professional coaching and development that will allow their volunteers to become more effective coaches, thus making their delivery of their already strong curriculum even more potent.
In Geita, Tanzania, they are just now embarking on a revival of their sports program. New Geita Executive Director Benson Tatala is stressing sports and education and with his vision and leadership they have a lot of energy and are looking to develop sports teams and teams that will allow the coaches to provide a positive outlet for the adolescents and also be able to teach life lessons through spots such as female empowerment, conflict resolution, health & education (such as malaria prevention / HIV awareness), and leadership qualities. Seeing a program in its infancy is a great honor. Both Tracy and I felt that this program will go very far very fast because of the great dedication of their directors and coaches, and the enthusiasm of the children to be involved. What Coaches Across Continents was able to provide was a structure for them to follow so that these life lessons can begin as they develop their teams and leagues. We worked with both coaches and players, teaching them various games that teach these life lessons while also working with the coaches on further professional development so that their lessons can have maximum effectiveness.
In both cases it was unfortunate that my time working with them came to a conclusion so quickly. Sometimes in the volunteering world it seems that right when you have a handle on the situation and are starting to make a lot of progress that your time runs out. Fortunately in both cases it is clear that the programs themselves are ready to continue their improvement and run with the lessons learned – so it will be exciting and interesting to see how far they can go when we return next year for our second year of partnership.
Year 2 – Play Soccer Malawi (Blantyre, Malawi)
Malawi was a great place to work for a month because of the people that are associated with Play Soccer Malawi. Patricio and Abel are always working for the children and seem to be fully integrated within the soccer community. I believe that they must know every coach, player, and program in the Blantyre area. They are also firm believers in soccer for social development and want to use this great game to improve the lives of their communities and the citizens of Malawi. There is no project that they do not want to undertake and no project that is too grand in scope. The second year of CAC’s involvement with PS Malawi involved continuing to train their coaches so that the effectiveness of their message continues to reach the children. Some coaches were there in past years so it was a refresher course in some regards, while many are brand-new volunteers which made our teaching a great start for them. We hope that next year (our final year) that the community leaders such are able to train their new volunteers on their own and continue working with the PS curriculum to reach even more communities as they expand throughout Malawi. The other major initiative that CAC took was to assist them with fundraising plans and presentations. As this program continues to grow and the visions of their leaders continue to embrace new projects the need for funding only increases. More importantly, the need for local funding is huge so that they can become self-sustaining. Working with them in this regard was rewarding although we know that immediate aid may not come for months as they have to set up meetings with large local companies and international organizations who can provide long-term assistance.
Year 3 – Kigoma, Tanzania
After three years (but my first year in Kigoma) you can see the progress that has been made. Due to their efforts, spearheaded by Nico Achimpota, Kigoma has won an award that will give them an all-weather sports-court set to be installed later this year. They started with very little coaching, especially working with girls, and now they have a group of 10-20 dedicated coaches who work with 25-50 kids each week, all supervised by Nico. Although they still have a ways to go to develop their own leagues they are secure in their teachings and do a good job encouraging kids and being positive role models. Although Coaches Across Continents could continue to show up every year and continue to provide assistance, it is time for Kigoma to stand on its own and show that every element of their community belongs to them and that they are self-sufficient in recruiting and training their own coaches, getting their messages of social development across, and providing a safe and positive outlet for the youth of Kigoma on a daily and weekly basis.
Now that I have looked at all three years of the Hat Trick Initiative – What patterns have emerged?
For me – it is clear that the communities that Coaches Across Continents decides to work with have a lot of energy and vision such as Geita and WKU. What they might lack however is the ability to implement their vision and focus this energy in the correct direction. CAC is able to provide some of that guidance. In Year Two the focus shifts more to sustainability. The program is building off the first year and by the end of the second year they should be close to running everything themselves. This includes further recruitment and education of local coaches, expansion into new communities, and securing of local funding necessary to continue running their projects. The final year seems to be one of letting the organizations stand on their own. After three years they should have the necessary volunteers ready to step into full leadership roles and an ability to sustain their own development. We provide one last effort to make sure that they are ready for this jump, and then they are on their own. At the end of the day the mission of Coaches Across Continents, and it should be of any volunteer group here in Africa and around the world, is not to do the work for the community. Rather, assistance should be provided so that they can learn to do things for themselves (oftentimes people just need the guidance, the know-how, and the encouragement) and then force them to help themselves. It seems so far that the Hat Trick Initiative is providing that sort of guidance and as more local NGOs move through their partnership more evidence will become apparent.
In October I will work with first-time program Play Soccer Zambia in Lusaka and in November I will work with another second-year program in Beyond Sport Integrated in Monze, Zambia. I will be able to see if my observations remain true and if the goals and effectiveness of Coaches Across Continents and their Hat Trick Initiative continue to show promise.