Finally, on October 5th, it was time to travel to Botswana. Penrith, Euston, Heathrow, Nairobi and then Gaberone took about 27 hours in all. As you would expect there was some discomfort but no great hardship in the grand scheme of things.
The training had been done and the funds had been raised. Thanks to support of the club, the coaches, parents and colleagues at work, we had actually raised three times the 'required' funds – which would be used for equipment, accommodation and travel within Botswana (essentially diesel for the mini bus provided by the Botswana Sports Association). I would like to express my deepest thanks to everyone that supported this trip. CWB asked if I would go and talk at the next training weekend about fund raising. I declined because 'come to Cockermouth' would have been the recommendation.
What was this trip about?
Cricket Without Boundaries (CWB) is an HIV/AIDS charity that uses cricket to deliver messages to young people – mainly in Africa – that will assist in preventing the spread of the HIV virus. There are trips every year to Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Cameroon and Botswana where 25% of the adult population carries the HIV virus with, as we would see, devastating consequences for the children and family life. As a cricket coach, I thought I could put some of my 20 years experience to good use. When I was given the role of HIV Lead (within our team of 8) this added a new dimension to to the trip and got me involved in issues where I had no experience at all.
Using mainly photos from the trip, I would like to give all the people that supported my fund raising an idea of what we ('Team Botswana' aka 'the Invincibles') experienced in our two weeks and also pick out a few things that left their mark on me.
A very brief Summary of a busy schedule!
Week 1 we were based in the capital Gaberone (near the South African border) and in week 2 we were near Francistown some 450 kilometres to the north. Francis town is the second city of Botswana and it has 45% of adults carrying the virus. We visited 8 state schools, a children's trust, a deaf school, an orphanage and a community day run by volunteers for local children. We also managed a day on Safari across the border.
The format was that in the mornings we coached/taught local teachers or volunteers who would achieve a basic coaching qualification and basically take the equipment we donated and carry on teaching cricket with the kids. Afternoons were for coaching the children and working with the guys we had taught earlier in the day. It didn't always go to plan with the coach education but the kids were always there in the afternoons! In our 2 weeks we worked with over 1200 kids with numbers at each session ranging from 60 to over 300.
Highs and lows
The abiding memories of the trip for me would be the friendliness of the people we met in Botswana and in particular the enthusiasm and cheerfulness of the kids we coached. You may get an idea from the pictures of how they threw themselves into cricket, in many cases barefoot on surfaces that we coaches would normally deem to be unsafe! They went for it and always came back smiling.
There was however, a dark side and this was after all the reason we were in Botswana working with CWB. HIV/AIDS casts a shadow over the country and while Botswana is doing better than most in living with the consequences of the disease, this should not deflect attention from the suffering of the children and young adults. Many of the children we worked with had the HIV/AIDS virus and their home lives were shattered because the adults in the family were ill, in a cycle of alcohol abuse, had died or just gone.
We saw some brilliant volunteers - particularly the Top Banana organisation in the north of Botswana - dealing with the consequences of the disease, providing food, shelter, love and a structure for the lives of the disadvantaged kids. They also ran fixed and mobile testing centres (I was tested so I could demonstrate how easy it was). The government were ensuring that ARV (Anti Retro Viral) drugs were widely available which meant people with HIV/AIDS were at least getting on with their lives and the mother to child transmission figures were improving greatly.
However, we were all left perplexed by the apparent lack of effort going into prevention. This gets to the heart of unpalatable traditional behaviours in Botswana and there seems a reluctance to tackle this. I will not go into detail here but if anyone wants to discuss this with me I'm happy to do this.
ABC and T
Our contribution was to mix HIV prevention messages with our coaching routines. The 4 basic messages to the kids were;
A – Abstain
B – Be faithful
C – Condomise
T - Test
These messages were used widely in the school curriculum so only the youngest kids would not already know them. Judging by the noise as they shouted back the ABCs to us, they knew what was being discussed. Maybe the kit we left and the wristband we gave to every child we coached would remind them of why these strange looking people were there. For the teachers, they saw this as a more fun way of passing on this message. Again, I'm happy to discuss what we did in more detail.
Needless to say, this is not a trip I will forget and I would be happy to put together a presentation one evening and provide more detail on how your contributions were used to make a difference and also seek support for the Children's Trust we visited at Gamodubu. Forging a link with Cockermouth CC would be fantastic.
Thanks again for your time and support.
Would I recommend this trip to other coaches, young or old – definitely!