“I admire these teachers. They are ambitious to provide good education, they take pride in the work they do, they have the strength to persevere, and they demonstrate a natural leadership when standing in front of a group.”

Marije Mulder’s experiences as trainer in Zambia – Kick-off 2018

“And then there it is. In January 2018 I got a go from Join for Joy to go to Zambia. This is a big opportunity, I know from experience. In 2013 I took part in one of Join for Joy’s Kick-off camps in Kenya.

My experience in 2013 was intense and real. The amount of ‘joy’ that the projects of Join for Joy brought, is hard to describe. The empathy with the needs and lifestyles of the children, teachers, social workers, in addition to playing, was the added value I experienced while volunteering for Join for Joy in Kenya. The transfer of knowledge was visible and tangible. Join for Joy’s vision to integrate this knowledge in Africa itself, without pretending to know better, but instead, to work together with the teachers, social workers and the population there, in order to achieve the best and most sustainable results in terms of sports for development WORKS!

Now Zambia. I went to Zambia with an open heart. This time I was not going to lead any children’s camps. Together with two other trainers from Zambia, Sammy and Edgar, and with Jan from the Netherlands, we were about to train a group of 26 teachers from 6 primary schools in how to teach sports and play, and how to link sports to life skills and social issues. This had to happen all in one week. What a challenge. But that is what I like about projects and what energizes me. As always, all things impossible turn out to be possible in the end. This experience was beyond expectation.

On Saturday 28 April, after a night flight to lose as little time as possible, we arrived at our lodge in Lusaka. The drive of 20 minutes gave us the feeling to be far away from the Netherlands. All shaken up by the bumpy road, I immediately land in a different culture.

Did I have expectations? Yes, I was convinced that this trip would be as special as Kenya. I did not dare to imagine anything specific about Zambia as a country. I realize, after visiting several countries in Africa, that you certainly cannot compare them. Still the number of obvious overlaps; the sunset with its golden glow, golden hours enough, and then that red earth, the overwhelming nature and of course the musical rhythm, the ease of how one moves and the ever-present smiles, makes me feel at home in this immense continent AFRICA.

We used Saturday to acclimatize a bit and to explore the area. On Sunday we drove up to our destination, guided by Henri, our driver and big support for the week. There we met Sammy and Edgar. It is the first time we meet in person, after our earlier introduction by phone.

At 10 o’clock we want to start preparing the week, dividing up the tasks, discussing our plan of action, planning, structure to get some clarity of what is ahead of us. Our first cultural difference occurs. Before we actually get it going it is 2 pm. Honestly, this delay allowed us to get to know each other better. After visiting the site where the training will take place we call it a day. We can’t wait to actually start with the Train the trainer course the next day.

It was a night with some restless sleep, I was too occupied with anticipating what to expect, hoping that the teachers will be willing to move, to open up to us. My fears were unfounded: When we arrived at 8.00 at the training field all teachers were there already, excited and ready to start, although the training was planned to start at 9.30 am. Surrounded by good energy and a good sense of humour, I feel their motivation to have a nice, informative, playful and enriching week.

The department head of Chongwe, Ruth, who joined us during the week, kicked off with a touching story full of messages that are well received by the teachers. Ruth has a certain power to really get through to people, with an admirable authenticity. This is a promising start of the week. Stories, experiences, expectations are shared. We agree on certain basic rules. We promise that we will take our responsibility to get things done, as a group, as an individual, at school, as teachers, as humans. We are here together for the same purpose: To enable as many children to enjoy the benefits of sports and play at school.

During the week we alternate sports and games and activities with didactical and methodical skills on how to vary between activities, how to adjust or invent new ones, how to link these activities to developmental targets. We constantly reflect on ourselves and on the activities. What went fine, what worked, what should be changed? This constructive feedback mechanism allows us to create openness and to give each other valuable advice. Although the teachers explain that openness is not always considered important in Zambia, we are surprised to see the natural way in which teachers share and take in feedback. They manage to create a safe space with room for a lot of laughter.

This safe space allowed for conversations about the individual targets of teachers, but also for addressing problems that characterize the Chongwe community: lack of equality between boys and girls; abuse; early pregnancies; malaria; HIV/aids. It confronts me with the privilege to be raised in a society where NO means NO, where there is room for me to express my opinion, where I can be independent, and where I have learned to be self-supporting. On the other hand, these conversations teach me how many basic needs and feelings we share: happiness and grief are identifiable for all of us. We share our own stories, which allow us to learn from each other.

In the meantime, I feel inspired by the ease with which teachers turn on the music to take their moment for some dance and relaxation time together. There is such a strong group dynamic. I admire these teachers. They are ambitious to provide good education, they take pride in the work they do, they have the strength to persevere, and they demonstrate a natural leadership when standing in front of a group. A week feels far too short to hear all their stories, but it proves enough to transfer the knowledge that we planned to bring and to supplement our own knowledge with theirs. We complement each other, out of respect and trust. Neither cultural differences nor ethnic backgrounds seem to matter. I feel understood and included in the group.

Working together with our Zambian colleague trainers was also sometimes challenging. We have different styles in how to present and how to teach, ranging from more rigid to more flexible with a lot of interaction. It helped to discuss together what works and what not. We applied the same constructive feedback methods to our teamwork as we used in our training. It was personally challenging for me to realize that my tendency to empower others and to let go is not always picked up the way I expected. Keeping the channels of communication open easily solved our initial misunderstandings and made us stronger as a team. And we proved once again that when everybody does what he or she does best, you are unbeatable as a team and able to move mountains.

The final activity of this Train the trainer week (how I enjoy working towards a specific goal and to tick boxes) was the sports day. The teachers organized this day with all their freshly developed skills for over hundred children at one of the six primary schools that participate in the Sports and play program. Notwithstanding holiday season there was a high turnout. The whole neighbourhood was there to support the children and to provide a fresh meal for over 150 people. Happy and exhausted, the children left the playing field to go home.

Certificates were delivered to the teachers and the week ended with one final group picture. Teachers were rightly proud on their acknowledgement of attendance. Their commitment was impressive. Nobody complained, notwithstanding the hardships these teachers sometimes face. On the contrary, the teachers worked together to get as much out the training week in order to come back to their schools to make the implementation of sports and play program a huge success.

I am grateful for this week. Besides the joy of teaching sports and play skills to the teachers, I learned a lot myself. My primary take away is that everything can be done when everybody takes responsibility for his or her own part. When home, I will follow this group of teachers closely and truly hope they will offer their students inspiring sports and play activities in order to have fun, to learn, and to discuss social issues. And I hope they will spread the knowledge on Sports for development to other schools in Zambia.

After the sports day, we drive back to our lodge, in silence. We are all thinking about what we have experienced, seen, been through, embraced and learned. We finish this amazing week with a final drink. On Saturday the 5th we fly back home, tired but satisfied. It is dark when we look out of the window from the plane. I guess it won’t take long before Lusaka will be as light as Nairobi during our layover.

Thank you, Join for Joy, for another amazing, incredible, fun, inspirational and educational week. You can be proud of what you are sowing and harvesting in Chongwe, Zambia.”


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