"Making a difference through netball" there has never been a truer statement. Netball is more than just a sport. It is a true passion of mine and something I have been lucky enough to gain so much from. It has given me opportunities and experiences throughout my life and allowed me to make lifelong friendships with many unforgettable memories along the way.
I signed up for Netball Development Trust hoping to share not only my love for netball but also the other things netball can offer including drive, focus and friendship. At the pre tour meeting it became apparent to me that we weren't just going to Kenya to coach netball but to use netball in a much broader way and provide opportunities to children that they would never otherwise have dreamed of.
We were welcomed with open arms at the airport by friends who Monica and Julie had built up relations with over their many years of touring which made us all feel immediately at home in a country that was a million miles apart from our normal lives. The journey and mode of transport was the first of many memorable journeys. The trip from Entebbe airport to the Uganda, Kenya border wasn't that far but due to bumpy roads the journey was longer than expected. However this was no bad thing as looking out the window and taking in some of the breath taking views and seeing people go through their day to day lives immediately immersed us into the local culture. We arrived at the Uganda Kenya border and when I say border I mean more of a barrier!! After a very casual greeting at the border where we were shown the true pace of East African life, we were allowed through into Kenya. Due to restrictions our car wasn't allowed from Uganda into Kenya so after a slow transfer of bags from one vehicle to the next we were on our way. The roads seemed to turn more into tracks here with some diversions that sure were very interesting and off road. We were soon to learn that there was definitely no highway code as we convoyed a police car through the crowds on the opposite side of the road along with another dozen or so cars. We soon learned to sit back and embrace the journey stopping along the way for our first toilet experience in a long drop!!! On our travels we drove through rural villages where it became very apparent that few children attended school as many had to help the family livelihood. One of the strangest yet most unforgettable moments was when children ran to us with a look of sheer delight as we were some of very few white people they had ever met which was a strange idea to get our head around. The term ‘mzungu’ meaning white person soon became part of our everyday vocabulary with ‘mzungu, how are you?’ still echoing in my ears now.
When we arrived at Bungoma cottages, which was to be our home for the next two weeks, I was pleasantly surprised by the cottages as they were clean, tidy and relatively spacious. So after unpacking we soon headed off to bed after our long journey. That evening Monica set me a challenge to see how many modes of transport I could get on during our trip, and I returned the challenge by setting her a task of completing 20 planks in as many outrageous places as possible. This really set the fun tone for the trip and the challenge was soon under way! The next morning we went to a local
waterfall which really gave us chance to get to know everyone and meet some of the local volunteers we would be working with. And of course as it was challenge day number one I made sure I completed as many modes of transport including one of my most memorable of standing on top of a school bus. Monica also got her planking under way!
The next day we were hosted by a local school to play in a netball game consisting of us volunteers from the UK against local volunteers and a team from the school. After our warm welcome it was time for the netball game. It was at this point I realized that the netball game was going to be played on the uneven surface of the field which also seemed to be occupied by two cows in the distance!! After the game we returned back to the cottages and had some down time in preparation for our busy week ahead, as the following day would be the start of our weeks coaching.
We all woke up eager to get our weeks coaching under way. Personally I was a little bit apprehensive as I was aware that the children we were coaching had never played netball before and I knew I only had four days to coach them before the tournament. In the morning between us we would be coaching four schools each with 30 pupils and a further five schools in the afternoon, each volunteer being delegated one school. On arrival at the school where we were coaching for the next four mornings of the week we were soon surrounded by the whole cohort of pupils who attended the school. Looking around we noticed that there were only two courts actually marked out and we needed four courts so we started to mark some out using some cones. The netball posts seemed to consist more of tree trunks with an attempt at a hoop at the top!! This was much the same for the school we coached at in the afternoons. Over the next half an hour the four schools arrived with their pupils in no hurry all running late and it was now I realised their pace of life and what we called ‘African time?’ After a quick introduction we were underway. It was a strange concept to us seeing the children arrive bare foot when they were about to play netball and this really highlighted the poverty they were faced with in day to day life. Many of the children didn't have clothes suitable to playing netball in so often used an adapted school uniform. It also became apparent to us that the children weren't drinking throughout the sessions which to us seemed a concept hard to get our head around but after a conversation with some of the children it became apparent that heartbreakingly they didn't have the resources or ability to bring water with them as the availability of a bottle was something of a foreign idea. I think that really struck me as water is a resource I assume to be readily available and yet in Africa it is a problem on a day to day basis. However, the next day to help the children we decided to take a tank of water for the children and some plastic cups, and during the break time the children swarmed all around us like we were giving out presents not water. Their appreciation for something such as water highlighted how much we take for granted in our day to day lives.
It wasn't long into the coaching that I was stunned by the natural talent and athleticism that the children demonstrated. The pace at which they picked up the skills I was teaching was incredible. Over the course of the week I got to know both sets of children I was coaching really well and was proud to see their progression. One thing that really struck me was their eagerness to learn as these children realised that an hour of netball coaching a day was a privilege and not something that was part of their normal normal lives. The week progressed fantastically and with a clear outline of our aims for each day we managed to gradually teach the game of netball which at the very start of the week seemed a very difficult task. However, by the end of the coaching sessions I felt confident that the children I had taught could actually now compete in a full game of netball and were ready for the tournament on the Friday. Unfortunately not all could play in the tournament and selecting ten from each school was no easy task after watching each and every one of them progress so incredibly throughout the week. With teams selected we were now ready for the tournament!
We headed back to the cottages unsure whether today would be one of the days where we had water and electricity or one where we didn't! Unbelievably myself and the two girls who were all sharing one cottage actually hoped we didn't have running water as over the course of the week we found washing African style by tipping buckets over ourselves turned out to be much more fun!! We really embraced the way of life and this made the experience so special and meaningful for all of us.
On our day off before the tournament we visited the rural school where four more teams were being coached to compete in the tournament the following day. Although we were going to watch and help coach the netball we were there for a much greater reason. We were going to donate and personally give sanitary pads to some of the girls who attended the rural school. This is a perfect example of how NDT is more than just about coaching netball as it provides girls who cannot afford sanitary pads with a lifeline. During our visit we heard touching stories of how some of the girls had stopped going to school when they were on their period and how their education and life was suffering, but thanks to the help of NDT we were making a real difference to these girls’ lives. At this point a massive thank you has to be said to Mary who we were lucky enough to meet on our trip as she started this project by donating some of her own personal money to pay for sanitary towels. Mary was one of many volunteers we were lucky enough to meet throughout the week.
Mary is an unbelievable and admirable person who we grew very close to over the week and she soon became known to us as ‘Aunty Mary.’
We then travelled back to Jinja in Uganda and stopped in Jinga backpackers which was a beautiful setting. I was looking forward to the weekend of down time and adventure before unfortunately having to return home. Over the course of the week all of the volunteers had become fantastic friends and built special friendships that will last a lifetime. Together we made a real difference and created memories we will never forget. Over the course of our final weekend we went white water rafting and I decided to go bungee jumping which was an amazing adrenaline rush and I absolutely loved it. We watched the sunset over the river Nile together and spoke about our many memories from the week. It was weird to say goodbye to people who at the start of the week I barely knew and by the end I felt we were lifelong friends. I honestly loved every second of the experience and definitely hope to continue to support this amazing charity and go on another tour in the future.