Saturday, September 19, 2009

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.

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