BLOG: A reflection on a volunteer’s time with Africa on the Ball in Zambia
Africa on the Ball and our community team in Zambia were able to benefit from the support of UK University student Jess Brown’s time and effort while undertaking a 6 week placement as part of the IDEALS project. In this blog Jess outlines her time with the team and staff in Kalingalinga.
As I enter my 2nd month back in the UK I’m doing all I can to grasp onto every bit of Zambian and African life to help comfort the blues. Anyone reading this that has been lucky enough to experience an unforgettable cultural exchange will understand quite how grey the UK seems on return. There’s only so long I can do the food shopping bare foot and force the family to enjoy Nshima with their hands, so I’ve decided to turn my thoughts to sharing my time working with Africa On The Ball.
I was placed in Lusaka, Zambia as a second year Cardiff Metropolitan student as part of the IDEALS project 2016. 6 weeks on placement in the fantastic community of Kalingalinga delivering PE in the local schools along with life skills and daily work with the local community football teams.
Day 1 of placement involved creating a timetable with Coach Gracious to help structure the next 6 weeks. As we sat in the homely living room of another local coach I remember Gracious outlining the optional 8am – 9am Training sessions that he takes every Tuesday – Friday that we could help out with. At the time I remember thinking, ‘I’ll pop along tomorrow to observe his work but I don’t know how well I’ll fair to 7am starts everyday’.
At the time little did I know these early morning training sessions would become the very motivation to be first up out the bunk beds everyday.
Let me tell you about Gracious. He’s one of 7 siblings and a KTown born and bred man of few words. If you can’t spot him, he’s normally the one dancing away to the rhythm he was so clearly born with. At the moment he is the sole coach of the Africa On the Ball U19’s. His dedication and time invested to create a successful team with regards to on field performance as well as team culture and spirit is truly inspiring. Whatever is happening in the community or in his personal life he is at the pitch at 7.30am every day without fail with cones, bibs and balls at the ready. (Big shout out to his mother whose house doubles as match day changing room and equipment storeroom – legend!). He taught me far more than I felt I could give back during my time in KTown. His coaching techniques were a welcoming change to those ‘shouting’ styles all too common back here in the UK. He could literally fire a change of expression towards the guys and they’d react in the way he wanted. Not only does he show an extensive knowledge in the game, the respect and trust he’s helped create in the team is immediately obvious. For those not familiar with traditions out in countries such as Zambia, before and after every training session and match as a team we would huddle in close and pray together. This became a powerful time for me everyday as we shared blessings upon each other and put us in the right mind-set for whatever was to follow.
I worked alongside Gracious to create session plans based on post match evaluations we’d make at the weekends following the team’s performance. The guys were both excited and sceptical as week 3 saw the introduction of ‘Fitness Tuesdays’. It was great to be able to provide hurdles and ladders to enhance their experience at training, however partner squats and planks weren’t quite so popular!
The ‘Africa On The Ball’ team play in the Lusaka Football Association Super Amateur League, Premier A. This hosted weekly Saturday games either at our home pitch in Kalingalinga or away to teams such as Wembly Delta, Zari FC, Rising Stars and Sinda Rangers. After witnessing a mixed bag of results we decided to focus our training around crossing the ball. Before we knew it a winning streak lead us to the Semi-Finals of the Prism Africa Winter Tournament Cup, to be held on our very own dirt pitch in KTown. Little did I know this fell on a public holiday meaning the whole of KTown came out to support the two semi-finals, 3rd/4th play off and the final all taking place on one day. Oblivious to this as
I walked round the corner I was taken aback by the amount of supporters enjoying the football and the commentary being used for the live television streaming of the matches. I’d never been exposed to the pressures of team talks and match day coaching around a game clearly meaning so much to the team, support network and community. We narrowly lost on penalties giving me new duties of tear drying and motivational speeches as we faced our last battle to come out 3rd. A goal fired in from a cross (yes we’d spent hours on this) saw us proudly take 3rd place and 1000kwatcha for the team. Few words can describe that feeling, seeing Gracious and the boys so ecstatic to be placed in the top 3, even better on their home dust. Days and weeks to follow I found locals approaching me wanting to shake my hand and congratulate us. Not to mention the special announcement we received in church the following Sunday, a truly humbling feeling.
Looking back and realising how nervous I was to take my first drill with this team as I was unsure on their levels of English and I was unconfident in my Nyjanja abilities. How would they take to a female muzungu (white person) of a near similar age attempting to offer advice in a sport they have played since they could walk? However my memories in this team environment are certainly some of the most special from my trip.
I can’t thank the whole team behind Africa On The Ball (UK and Zambia) enough for your passion to keep this project running. My time working with this team was completely unplanned and unexpected but I will be forever grateful for all it has taught me. Big mention goes to Kelvin out in KTown who clearly works incredibly hard behind the scenes in ensuring the team are well looked after and keeps on top of paperwork. He provides a crucial link to the team working equally hard back here in the UK to support all aspects of the project.
Anyone with a passion for football, sport, Africa, travelling or just searching for something that could have the potential to impact yours and others lives for the better; AOTB will not let you down. With more IDEALS students like myself being exposed to this project and the continued hard work from the guys in the UK it is extremely exciting to see what is on the cards next! I sense a female take over very soon! Watch this space…
Post dedicated to Coach Gracious; gracious by name and nature. The man who taught me what a real team talk should look like. 11 guys oozing happiness from the hips – a team dance!!