June 11th, 2011 from Dean, Brian, Sophie, AJ and Alicia.
After several months of discussions and negotiations, Coaches across Continents has started its first year of a Hat-Trick Initiative partnership in Namibia. We’ve come to
the capital city, Windhoek, to work with Special Olympics Namibia by blending
our missions – which are quite similar to begin with. As always, ours is to educate and support local teachers, who educate local children, ensuring that the program is
consistent and sustainable and that there will be a new generation of community
leaders. Special Olympics aims to “empower people with intellectual disabilities to realize their full potential and develop their skills: through sports training. The world’s sport, soccer, opened the door to our collaboration.
We arrived in Windhoek, a city of about 200, 000 people,
on June first. Namibia and Windhoek were new to all of us. We have found the
country and its capital to be full of startling contrasts. Namibia has been independent for only 20 years; it’s a progressive country, the first one in the world to put protection
of the environment into its constitution. The government has devised a plan, Vision 2030, “to make deliberate efforts to improve the quality of life of our people to the level of their
counterparts in the developed world by the year 2030.” Yet unemployment is around 30%, there is a tremendous difference between the literacy rates of blacks and whites, and the adult prevalence of HIV/AIDS is thought to be 15 per cent. The downtown area of Windhoek is modern and dynamic, but there are impoverished townships not far from the citycenter. Problems here, as in most places, are undeniable – but there are also noble aspirations, a solid government, and a progressive environment. Namibia is beautiful and filled with promise.
Our days here have followed a pattern. We travel every morning from our hostel to a
part of Windhoek called Katutura, where the headquarters of Special Olympics
Namibia is: three small buildings for administration and meetings. Next to those buildings is a small soccer field: artificial surface as big as a hockey rink, four foot high walls around the field. The field was built a year ago by FIFA, the international governing body of soccer.
At 8:30 we organize “Circle of Friends”, all the 35 Namibian coaches and we CaC coaches in a large ring, shoulder to shoulder, friend beside friend, listening to or talking with us as we introduce the day’s plan. Then we warm up, using soccer movements, without and with a ball. We make a point of organizing games that require as few balls and as little
equipment as possible: those may or may not be available to the coaches in
their own settings. After warmup come soccer movements and skills, brief
meetings on the field, and many games to address social issues: female
empowerment, HIV/AIDS prevention, conflict resolution, inclusion. Soccer is the means to our end, but the key here is the message. References to the international stars Ronaldo, Marta, and Tim Howard stimulate interest as the coaches play our imaginative and
provocative games. These games and activities, with their explicit and implicit messages, are complemented by our ‘non-negotiable requirements” for practices – to prohibit any kind of violence, racism, rudeness, etc.
Midway through the morning comes a short discussion
period about the day’s issue, a review of our first session, or questions and answers. The discussions are lively, and they reflect the coaches’ earnest and open-minded approach to our program. In one, we asked the coaches to sharpen up the word “fun”. As far as soccer goes, what does “fun” actually mean? The coaches came up with this:
Learning something new.
Making new friends, keeping old ones.
Competing with self and others.
Scoring a goal.
Being in a team.
Enjoying the game – movement.
In the afternoon, we work with Special Olympics’ athletes. We present challenging
activities and games and support them as they gain skills. Their joy is palpable. The parallels between our mission and that of Special Olympics Namibia have been obvious to us since the first days of our collaboration. Eunice Kennedy Shriver,
the founder of Special Olympics, believed in “the possibilities of individuals
with intellectual disabilities” and “strongly believed that everyone
counts.” So do we.