Saturday, September 19, 2009

Please Vote for Ethan!

If you have a minute, please vote for Ethan Zohn in this competition. If he wins, half of the proceeds($5,000) will be donated to GRS! Former Survivor: Africa winner and co-founder of Grassroot Soccer, Ethan is an amazing man, so please show him support!

This is a picture of me hanging out watching a Street League soccer match behind our office with some of our amazing coaches.

Coach's Story and Development Session

Happy Fall everyone! I hope you all are doing well and enjoying the changing of the seasons(for most of you). Things are moving along really well in Port Elizabeth, work at the office is becoming more and more hectic with ongoing projects and upcoming events, so the atmosphere is great and quite high energy most of the time!

In a previous blog I mentioned what my work for Grassroot Soccer entails this year, but I wanted to expand on it further and go into more detail about some specifics. In Port Elizabeth I work in Programs, an element of which involves implementing our curriculum that we have created, called Skillz, into the schools that we work with. Skillz is an intensive 8 session(each session(“practice”) is 45 minutes long) run by our “coaches”(role models from the community) which encompasses games, team building activities, group discussions(“team talk”), and assignments to work on before the next session(“micro-move”). There is a TON of lingo within the Skillz curriculum, so I won’t overwhelm you just yet with all of that. In the time that I have been here, I have already grown really familiar with the practices, and I have even gotten to help facilitate a few(with the help of coaches) at various times, which has been really cool, and something that I never actually imagined would happen. I have also had the chance to go out “in the field” many times to schools in the townships that we work in to see coaches in action running through practices. Really cool stuff. The picture I posted before of the kids playing “find the ball” is just one example of an activity played in a practice.

So, on Fridays at our office we have what are called Development Sessions. Development Sessions involve all 40 of our Coaches coming to our office from 9:30 to 11:30, or later, usually. Sessions vary in length and style, but all sessions involve time for each township specific group to meet and talk about highs and lows for the week, goals for the next week and general logistics about how work is going. Yesterday our development session was Session 8 of the Skillz Curriculum. Two relatively new coaches ran the practice, so that they had an opportunity to perfect their presentation and receive feedback from more experienced coaches. So, Lidz(“God”) one of our coaches, and Nkiza, led the session. Dom, Mike and I were in the office so we got to participate. When the coaches come for Development sessions, everything else comes to a halt in the office, so Fridays are both fun and really hectic. Imagine 40 loud, goofy, outgoing people all shoved into one room--it gets crazy! So, the practice began with the group breaking into three smaller groups so that we all could share our “Coach’s Story”. The coach’s story is part of the Skillz Curriculum, and it is a story or memory of a defining moment in the coach’s life which they share with the children they are working with. It is a moment for the children to connect with the coach’s better, seeing their struggles and being able to compare their life and relate to the coach on another level. The coach’s story doesn’t have to be HIV/AIDS related, but most of the coaches have stories about the effect of HIV/AIDS on their life.

In my group of about 15 coaches, each person had a few minutes to share their story. I was really excited and interested to hear these coaches tell such an intimate story, and I also was not sure what I was going to talk about, fearful that my stories would not compare to anything that these people have been through. The stories that these coaches told were incredible: beyond what I could have imagined. I was blown away with how easily they were able to share these stories, and also in shock at what these people have experienced at such an early age. Helen Epstein, author of the book The Invisible Cure, one that I highly recommend to anyone interested in learning more about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa, spoke to the predicament in South Africa. She said that here in particular, not everyone is infected, but everyone is affected. The only problem is that in general, here people do not talk about it. So, getting to hear coaches, role models and young people around my age, talk about how this virus has affected their lives was not only inspiring but also quite intense. To give you a sense of what some of the stories were like, one girl(she is literally a girl, about 18 years old), told the story of how her best friend went out drinking one night, was raped and the assailant was HIV+, thus infecting her. This coach said that working for GRS was her way to help make it up to her friend. Another coach spoke about his sister passing away from HIV, and yet another spoke about her father having an affair, getting diagnosed with HIV and never telling her mother. These are only a few of the stories, and I have not even done them justice with my brief description of what was said. There were tears, lots of hugs and at the end I felt closer to these coaches than I had before, and I also had a better understanding of who they are and why they are so passionate about working for this organization.

An activity like that stays with you, and I knew that I wanted to share this with everyone because these stories are ones that I find myself continually thinking about. Dom and I began talking about the coach’s story, and formulating our own, which led to a great conversation between the two of us, and I immediately felt more connected to him. It’s remarkable how, when given the right venue, people can open up so easily.

Friday night, we were lucky enough to have two surprise guests from Cape Town staying with us! Zak(the Monitoring and Evaluating MASTER of GRS),and Elise(who works closely with Bill Miles, our COO in Business and Development), both Dartmouth graduates who now work for GRS and live in Cape Town came through PE on a surprise, unplanned visit. They were on vacation and missed their flight so we got to show them around the city and spend time with them, and it was wonderful! Getting to see familiar (American!) faces, talk about GRS news and updates, and laugh it up was a wonderful feeling; the four of us were giddy with excitement and happiness! I think that talking with them, and hearing about what is in store for the upcoming year, for GRS and in Port Elizabeth in particular, made me all the more excited and enthused about what is to come. It was a very pleasant surprise, and a great start to our weekend!

Something that I also wanted to briefly highlight about what makes Grassroot Soccer so great is that every voice matters. Tommy Clark, one of the founders, is constantly corresponding within the GRS community, emailing the interns and checking in with everyone. And, even lowly interns like myself feel that we truly have a voice and make an impact. Ideas that I have had and mentioned are now becoming a reality-all it takes is speaking up to any superior and most likely, if feasible, your goals can be met. It’s a really empowering, and inspiring feeling to know that your ideas(“nuggets” as they are called in the GRS world) actually can make a difference. With an NGO such as GRS which is constantly evolving and changing, sometimes it is overwhelming to think of adding in other suggestions or ideas to the mix, but it is reassuring and inspiring to know that our feedback is greatly appreciated and taken into consideration. It certainly helps to light that fire within me to think of more constructive methods of approaching aspects of our work and other things that could be done to help GRS out overall.

If you have a free minute, check out the new GRS website: They just updated it and it looks great! If you go to the page: Who we are, scroll down to Interns, you can see photos and read bios about the other interns who are working for GRS this year. It’s really cool to read about all the employees as well, and how they got involved with GRS. And, the website has a lot of great information about what is new with GRS as well as information, history and videos. Lots of cool stuff to see!

In other, more light-hearted news, this weekend we went to Addo National Park, about a 40 minute drive from Port Elizabeth, and one of the most well known Elephant Parks in Africa. We went on a 6am safari, which was really cool. We didn’t actually get to see a lot of animals(one elephant, warthogs, kudu(like antelope), and a few others) just being in the park and checking out the scene was awesome. Afterwards, we went to this cool private zoo where we got to play with baby lions! It was probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, really crazy to get to hold and pet and play with little lions, don’t think that would fly in the states!

Looking forward to the upcoming weeks, we have Holiday Programs starting September 28th, which is a week of “camp” style activities for students while they are on school holiday, so I should have lots of photos and updates from that. Dom, Mike and I will pretty much be the coordinators of the camps in each township. And, Rosie is going to help with a week long training for new coaches, so lots will be happening! I’ll be sure to keep you all posted.

Again, I hope you all are doing well. It has been great to hear from people and to know that people are enjoying the blog! Please keep in touch and let me know how you are doing, it is always great to hear from people, even a quick e-mail. Thanks for all the love and support.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Skillz Event with Saint Barnabas Church

This photo is of a group of boys participating in the activity called, "Find the ball". In this game, there are two lines of people standing side by side, hands behind their backs, facing the other group. The leaders of the activity walk behind each line and put the ball in someone's hand, and they pass it down the line until the leader tells them to stop. Then, it is up to the other team to guess who has the tennis ball in the line across from them. We use tennis balls that have "HIV" written on them to teach the children that you cannot tell who has HIV just by looking at them, and the only way you know your status is by getting tested. It's a really fun game that children enjoy and learn a lot from as well. Our coaches do a fantastic job of presenting the game in an energetic and positive matter, it is amazing to watch. We have also been lucky enough to get to help out with these activities and presenting them, which is a bit nerve wracking but also really fun!

This photo is from an event we had this past weekend at Saint Barnabas Church in Zwide, one of the townships that we work in. We had an informal soccer tournament, some netball(like basketball, but worse) and did some of the activities from our Skillz Curriculum. This is a picture of three of us (Rosie, Mike and myself) with some of the coaches and our supervisor, Mpumi(lower right). The event was a great success and a lot of fun!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Port Elizabeth is like Detroit

When I am asked to describe Port Elizabeth, the first thing that comes to mind is that PE is like the Detroit of South Africa. An immediate reaction to that statement would probably be one of repulsion, but Port Elizabeth has a lot more beauty than one would expect, and I think that it is an overlooked city. I compare it to Detroit because PE is a struggling industrial city, with smokestacks and a large conglomerate of the South African automotive industry based here. We pass GM, Volkswagen and others frequently, as their centers are based in PE.

But, there is so much more to PE, in fact that is just what you see initially. We have been able to run on trails near our house, called the snake trails, which remind me so much of Southern California. The wafting smell of Eucalyptus, the dry heat, small branches and twigs and palm trees make me feel as though I am in Laguna Beach. Even the road to enter Port Elizabeth reminds me of the curving entrance to Laguna or other southern California towns. At the top of a hill on this run, you can look out over the city, see the ocean and see mountains in the distance. We literally have the best of all worlds.

When we drove out to Jeffrey’s Bay last weekend, about a 40 km drive west towards Cape Town, it felt like I was in the countryside of Europe. Every place we go has a different feel, the valleys and winding roads, along with gorgeous pastures and amazing mountains in the distance had such a European feel, then we would pass a hugely deserted plot of land, with dry, dead looking trees interspersed, and I would remember that I am in South Africa. The variety is quite incredible.

I have gone running down by the beach, and the feeling there is also reminiscent of California: large homes decorate the edges of the sand, and the beach seems to go on forever. It also feels a bit like Delaware beaches, with the tall homes right along the road, looking out onto the channel that drops the water into the ocean. It’s hard to believe that I can see all of this within two minutes from my house.

Then, if we drive for about 15 minutes we are taken to the townships. The township where I will be working this year, Motherwell, is in the opposite direction from where our office is, in a township called Zwide. Motherwell sits on a hill looking over PE, and is much more organized, clean and wealthier than Zwide. It doesn’t feel as much like a township, although all it takes is a cow crossing the road for you to remember where you are. Tonight, for example, even in our swanky neighborhood of Blue water Bay(we live in a nice, suburban part of town, but we call it the ghetto compared to some of our neighboring homes), two donkeys ran across the road in front of us! Donkeys! Near the gas station! It was hysterical.

I think what has surprised me the most, and also frustrated me when talking with other interns who are scattered about in Zambia, Namibia and Malawi, is that South Africa is a developed country. While I was well aware of this upon arriving, I was still excited and waiting in anticipation to see what Cape Town looked like outside of the airport when I arrived. Interestingly enough, we did get to drive through the townships of Cape Town, some of the biggest in the world, before we entered the city, but I was surprised at the infrastructure. After all, the only other experience I have had in Africa was the trip that I took to Senegal while studying abroad in France. Senegal and South Africa are two completely different countries, so expecting to see what I saw in Senegal in South Africa was a bit of a leap. I was talking with another intern who studied in Senegal about the differences between the two, we both remarked that Cape Town did not really feel like Africa, it had more of a European feel. In Senegal, a still developing country, there are is no real order on the roads, many roads are not paved(or if so it is a poor job); in short, there is no infrastructure. In South Africa, driving down the street to the grocery store feels the same as in New York, California or Vermont. However, the townships in South Africa make me feel as though I am not at home. On our drive to work, we pass miles upon miles of tin roof shacks scattered across the landscape as far as the eye can see, every different color. These house families of eight to nine, and sometimes more, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents all living together under one roof at a time. On rainy, cold days I stop and think about what it must be like in those small shacks, with little insolation or protection from the outside. The roads in the townships are dirt, lined with garbage and sewage, stray dogs and goats milling about, mixed with children running around and women selling fruit along the streets. People are, as I have so often found, so friendly, outgoing and optimistic considering the obstacles they face on a daily basis. The other day we were leaving the townships and we saw a man get tackled on the street by security officers as well as locals, because he was trying to steal from a woman’s fruit stand. So, it’s nice to know that people are still looking out for one and other, when you could so easily be consumed with looking out for yourself.

I think that the combination of lives that I am living is one of the best experiences about living in Port Elizabeth, because myself and the other interns whom I live with are all experiencing so many different worlds. We get to interact and meet Afrikaners in our neighborhood(I will get into more detail about the segregation still present), we get to mingle with tourists down by the beaches, and we get to work and spend majority of our time with blacks in the townships. I still cannot get over the feeling of walking into schools in the townships to the stares of hundreds of kids, fascinated by your color, your clothes, your accent. Having the respect of the people in the townships is the most important thing to me, because they look at most white people with such distain and hatred, so once they know that we are a. trying to learn xhosa, and b. not an Afrikaner, they usually treat us much more in a kinder and more civil manner.

Let me give you an example of our split lives: Last Friday, we finished work at about one thirty, after meeting with all of the coaches(there are 40 in PE), discussing the upcoming week and making sure of all them were paid correctly. So, after work, the three people that I live with were famished, so we decided to go to our favorite braai(BBQ) place just down the road in Zwide, the township where we work. They have the most incredible meat that I have ever tasted. What you do is you walk in to this little deli/store, order the meat that you want(we always chose beef and lamb), they pour their spice concoction on it, you buy whatever else you want to buy(we choose cokes and a loaf of whole wheat bread, in an attempt to feel a bit healthier), then you bring the meat around to the back of the building where grills and outdoor seating is set up, and the men back there grill your meat to perfection and bring it over to you, on thick brown paper, and you gnaw, rip and chew at the meat in any fashion you want, as long as it does not involve silverware or napkins. It’s a riot. And, it’s great to be in the thick of it all, we have already become friends with the grill men! So, we ate there, went home, hung out for a bit, then went down to the boardwalk by the water for the evening. There were a few soccer games on that we wanted to see, so we decided to have dinner down there as well. The boardwalk has a casino, a movie theater, bowling alley and lots of cute little tourist shops, it feels very much like florida or any resort spot. We ate at this cool little restaurant with house music blasting all night, and sipped on wine and mixed drinks while watching the game. One of my house mates commented on the drastic difference between our two meals that day, one in the township and one in the city: literally like night and day. It’s a great combination though, because not only do you get to experience both worlds, but it is nice to have a place to come back to that can bring you out of the intensity of the townships, as thinking about it over time gets me incredibly overwhelmed and sad.

Before I forget, I guess I should give a more proper introduction of the people whom I live with. I live with two guys, Mike and Dominic(Dom), and Rosie. Mike is from New Jersey, is 23 and just graduated from Boston University with his masters in Public Health. Super laid back, funny, surfer dude with a great attitude, he is going to be working in Monitoring and Evaluation in our Port Elizabeth office, which basically means he will be running focus groups talking to children, monitoring data and running his own sort of “experiments” here out in the field. He is responsible for recording a ton of data and the quizzes that every graduate must fill out, so as we are expanding,his work is going to get heftier and heftier. But, he has a lot of great ideas and he is beyond competent, so I know that he will rock at what he is doing.
Dom is from Massachusetts, and is also one of the nicest people that I have ever met. Really, the group of people whom I live with is unreal! We all click really well and each bring a different outlook and perspective to the group dynamic. Dom just graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine, and is good friends with my friend from home who also went to Bowdoin, Lindsey Schickner. So, we immediately had that connection. He played soccer at Bowdoin and is super funny, positive and such a daredevil! Also a big sox and pats fan(everyone in my house is, so that’s great). Dom is working in Programs with me, which entails working closely with our coaches who implement the curriculum at schools, coordinating their schedules at schools, making sure they are paid on time, but also helping with logistics like our new street league, which is a tournament style league for kids to play in after school, and getting other things up and running. The two of us have been driving around to schools a lot, seeing graduations, participating in some of the activities in our Skillz curriculum and doing other random things. It’s been really awesome, and it is so cool to get to know the coaches and see them in action.
Rosie is from Maine and just graduated from Colby College in Maine. She also played soccer there and is a riot! Subtle humor, positive energy, this girl cracks us all up. She is a little bit more quiet than I am(shocking, I know), but once you get her going there is no stopping her! She and I get along really well, and it’s a nice balance to have two guys and two girls, so the guys can go and have “guy time” while the girls can also go and have “girl time”. We played Pictionary the other night, girls v. boys, and we won by almost ten points...just goes to show that girls rule! ha.

Well, I hope that everyone is doing well, it is great to hear from people about what is going on in their lives, so please e-mail me( at any point to check and or just say hi! I would love to hear from you. Much more to come, I have a few other blogs in the works.

All my best!