I wanted to avoid clich├ęd posts about interesting dancing, music, and food, but I can't help it. Since I have been here I have been amazed at how much music and dance are a part of life. If there is a group of four or five guys hanging out and the radio is on they will be dancing. There is road construction between my city, Mafeteng, and the capital Maseru. Whenever I travel the road I will see the flag guys - the guys directing traffic - stop a car, and if that car has the stereo playing the flag guy will start dancing. He will let that car go and then the next car that stops and has music playing will get him dancing again.

On the property where I live there is a large house owned by my landlady, my smaller house, and then also some smaller rooms that people rent. In one of the rooms is a mother and her baby. The baby is probably less then a year old. She can sit up and crawl, but that is about it. Oh...and for the first few weeks that I lived here she would cry anytime I came within a couple meters of her. She dances! When the men who also rent the smaller rooms come home from work and put the radio on they will dance and the baby does this weird gyrating torso movement combined with bouncing around. She is really an awful dancer, but it is still dancing.

A couple of weeks ago I was able to attend a cultural event in a village called Kolo, in the district of Mafeteng. There were some dance performances that I was able to video tape. The tape probably doesn't do justice to the dance. It sounds corny, but the dancers seem to have the bass (the beat, not a fish) inside their bodies. The dancing is so simple, but it is so rythmic. There is not much for accompanying music. Just singing, clapping, and some people beating plastic drums. The boys also have little shakers on their ankles which makes noise. I am not sure what the boys' dance is about - I think possibly something to do with war. The girls' dance is about horse riding I believe. All the shrill hollering that you hear is encouragement. It's not part of the song.

April 24th, 2010

Sport for Development and Peace

Sport for Development and Peace

Sport and HIV/AIDS

I have been avoiding posting this for a while because at this point my thoughts are still not clear. But I just finished my first soccer coaching workshop and thought now is as good a time as any. This post basically describes what I am doing in Lesotho. If you are only interested in reading about travel stuff – food, music, dancing, etc then this post might be a bit boring.

The concept of sport for development basically stems from the idea that sport can have some sort of positive social contribution. The thinking is that we can use sport to achieve a number of social objectives ranging from health and educational objectives, to peace and community building, to human rights and issues of equality, to post-disaster relief - I have not checked, but if you Google ‘sport for development’ and Haiti I am sure you will find a number of organizations using sport for some form of post-disaster relief in Haiti. I know that there were sport NGOs operating in South East Asia immediately after the tsunami. Whether these objectives can be achieved through the use of sport is a topic for another time.

What interests me at this moment is the organizations that are using sport to reach health objectives. It interests me because I am currently involved with such an organization – Coaching for Hope. Coaching for Hope is a training organization that works with local soccer coaches. They are partnered with the English FA and deliver football coaching courses that combine technical football coaching and HIV/AIDS education. The idea is that the local coaches will then go into their community and work with youth on football and on HIV/AIDS prevention. HIV/AIDS and sport seems like an odd combination, but for organizations working in this field it is very common. Right to Play, Kicking Aids Out, Grassroots Soccer, and Coaching for Hope are all examples of this. A cynical person might say that this awkward combination is the result of fishing for funding. A more optimistic person might claim that sport offers a way to reach segments of the population that may not be responsive, or have access to, traditional educational approaches. I am a little bit of both.

Frequently, the use of sports for HIV/AIDS education is often clumped together with the claim that these programmes are teaching life skills through sport. My official title for the project I am involved with is Football and Life Skills Coordinator. It makes me cringe a little bit. For some people it is a given that sport can help develop life skills. However, trying to decide what aspects of sport benefit what people and then applying those aspects to completely different cultures becomes incredibly difficult. Are the life skills I learned playing for the Campbell River Youth Soccer Association equivalent to the life skills that youth in Lesotho will gain? Through sport are the skills gained by a middle class Canadian the same as the skills gained by children who are living in extreme poverty, possibly orphaned because of HIV/AIDS, possibly HIV positive themselves, possibly raising younger siblings, and possibly having to earn an income to support themselves?

Maybe I should back up a bit and try to define life skills. It is a very ambiguous term and I think that is the reason why a lot of people will just naturally assume that sport can help develop life skills. UNICEF categorizes life skills as communication and interpersonal skills, decision making and critical thinking skills, and coping and self-management skills. To teach a skill you need to provide someone with knowledge and then they need to be able to apply that knowledge. This is where I have a huge problem with life skills. I believe that sport can teach these skills, but if it is done so without recognizing the context in which the life skills are used then it is basically useless. I might be complicating things a bit, so I think it is easier if I relate a newspaper article I read during my first week in Lesotho.


The story is about the rape of a 16 year old girl by a man who is HIV positive. The headline itself is probably common, but what struck me was how the man tried to defend or justify what he did.

“I admit that I chased and stabbed her with a knife. She consented to sex because she was scared.”

His defense was that he did not rape her because she consented to sex as a result of him stabbing her.

This is where I feel there is a disconnect between the programmes that teach life skills and the cultures in which they are working. This girl could have received the best life skills training in the world. She could have known everything about HIV, but she is in a culture in which she is not able to implement those life skills. If a girl can be raped, if a wife is not allowed to refuse sex with her husband, if a women does not have the power to demand the use of a condom, if a young man is so poor that he has to focus on earning enough to feed himself, then what can life skills education hope to achieve?

I am not arguing against education. Obviously education is necessary and it has results when targeted at appropriate populations. Whether that education is the responsibility of international sporting NGOs or the responsibility of the government and the educational system could be a topic for another time.

I guess my main point is that the focus on using sports to develop life skills or to change individual behavior is a distraction. If a person is able to change their behavior, but that behavior is not accepted by the community or is not able to be practiced because of differences in power then little good has been done. Is it possible instead for these organizations to focus on the bigger issues?

Can sport be used to challenge traditional gender roles and norms?

Can sport be used to empower marginalized groups to seek equality?

Basically, can sport foster social change within a culture?

April 22nd, 2010

Isn't it Funny/Ironic

I find it ironic- I was going to use the word 'funny' because I am always afraid to use the word 'ironic'. Funny would have been safer. If I use 'ironic' incorrectly I imagine my sister-in-law flying over to Lesotho to smack me in the head. After some Google searches however I have decided that I might be okay in this situation. After reassuring myself that situational irony refers to an outcome that turns out to be different than what was expected - Anyways, I find it ironic that I have ended up living in a culture that places so much importance on verbal communication (greetings, pleasantries, small-talk, conversations). As I stated in my previous post, to say that I am not talkative is a bit of an understatement.

While I was living in Canada and China I never had much of a problem. It was easy enough for me to go through my day and not really have to talk to people. I'm not saying that is a good thing. China was slightly different than Canada because in certain places I was a bit of a curiosity and people would want to talk and to practice their English, so I was usually drawn into conversations. Lesotho is completely different than Canada or China. It is not just that I am a novelty, but greetings, and small-talk, and talking in general are such an important part of the culture. It is expected, or polite, to greet everyone and exchange pleasantries/small-talk. When I am walking down the street it is interesting to watch peoples' reactions to me. The closer I get to someone without greeting them the more intense of a glare they seem to give me. Then, I say lumela (hello) and all of a sudden it was like the person was being forced to hold their breath and by me saying hello they can now let it all out. After that it is usually a huge smile followed by a 'how are you?' and sometimes a small conversation. During my ten minute walk to work this situation can repeat itself dozens of times.

I think this commitment to conversation also helps to explain the notion of 'Basotho Time'. I've been told many times that when God created man he gave the watch to the European and he gave time to the African. I suppose it is a similar concept to 'Island Time' or 'Indian (First-nation) Time'. I don't intend to perpetuate any stereotypes through this blog, but when you experience the necessity of greetings and speaking with nearly everyone it becomes clear how scheduled events can run into problems.

April 20th, 2010


If you know me then you probably already know that I am not a great communicator, verbally anyways, so me starting a blog might not make a lot of sense. However, at times I can be quite typative. When I'm writing I somehow manage to convince myself that I am incredibly clever and humourous. Hopefully through this blog I will be able to continue deluding myself.

Bapala is Sesotho for play. I chose it for the title because I really couldn't think of anything clever. At least if you post something in a different language it seems cool - Not a good first step to maintaining my internal facade of being clever and humourous.

Actually I chose it because a big reason I ended up in Lesotho is through researching Right to Play (www.righttoplay.com). My knowledge and opinions regarding organizations like Right to Play have evolved quite a bit since I first started looking into them. In an attempt to get a better understanding of this type of work I have left my wife in Canada and started a job in Lesotho - I didn't really leave her. I am lucky to have the best wife in the world who is very understanding of what I am doing. I am working through a number of organizations including the Olympafrica Youth Ambassador Programme, Coaching for Hope (www.coachingforhope.org), and LENEPWHA (The Lesotho Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS).

I am not a strong enough writer to do justice to the scenery, the people, or everything else that I will be exposed to, so I am going to avoid writing a travel blog. Instead of writing about where I am going and what I am doing I think I will just try to write some general stories of my time here. I hope that through these stories I will gain a better understanding of what I am doing and also capture something of the country and the culture.

April 17th, 2010