Buzzwords - Sustainability

Since entering the field of sport for development I have had to confront a number of buzz words. It was the same when I was working as a teacher (critical thinking, higher order thinking, age-appropriate, and multicultural education for example. I have been racking my brain to remember some more, but I think they are leaking out). I think most professions, or fields of work, contain buzz words. They obviously represent concepts which are valued as important, but I think there is also the tendency to hide behind these words. I also feel that they create a form of intellectual laziness. I recently read an article by William Easterly

(He is an economist at NYU. He wrote a book called White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, which has influenced my thinking about international development a great deal). The article references a talk he gave at the London School of Economics about skepticism as a creative force. I don't know if I would classify myself as a skeptic, but I agree with him in the utility of skepticism.

In the sport for development field I always hear or read about life skills, empowerment, self-esteem, and sustainability. I already had a post about life skills on my blog and I recently started writing for the Terry blog at UBC and posted a similar post there.

For this post I am interested in the idea of sustainability in sport for development. It is one of these words that appear on websites and in project proposals, but I am not sure how well thought out it is. Sustainability in international development and sport for development basically refers to the idea that benefits that occur through an intervention should be maintained after the intervention is over.

The problem I have with sustainability is that sports in themselves do not seem sustainable unless the communities, or individuals, believe that there is a positive benefit and are willing to invest without expecting much of a direct return on their investment. Sports programmes require funding for facilities, equipment, and various other needs. In general, youth sports in isolation are not able to generate income. Programmes in Canada receive funding from a variety of sources including: user fees, local sponsorships, government grants, and community fundraising. In Lesotho what is the possibility of a sports programme receiving funding from any of these sources? User fees, local sponsorships, and community fundraising are quite difficult because of the level of poverty. Additionally the idea of government funding for youth sports is also problematic when governments have a hard enough time funding basic health and educational systems.

Many sport-for-development organizations will claim that by partnering with local government organizations and NGOs, and by training members of these organizations that they are ensuring that there work is sustainable. For example:

Right To Play’s approach to programming goes beyond individual capacity-building to include investments in partnerships. By collaborating with, and training dedicated community leaders such as teachers, early childhood educators, and staff from other local implementing NGOs or Community-Based Organizations (CBOs), Right To Play helps to ensure the appropriate localization of programs, the establishment of strong and lasting mentoring relationships, and the long-term sustainability of our work

The idea is that partnering with local organizations and training local people with the skills will ensure the sustainability of the programme. This does create the possibility that skills taught will be sustained and transferred in the future, but it does so with the assumption of continued economic support. This form of sustainability seems to ignore the fact that programmes have to receive funding from somewhere. Until governments, communities, local businesses, or individuals are in a position to prioritize youth sports there is no hope of sustainability.

An additional problem that arises is the possibility that the presence of sport for development organizations actually hurt the long term sustainability of sport. For example, LEFA (the Lesotho National Football Association) receives funding from the government and from FIFA. A portion of this money is supposed to go towards youth development. In Mafeteng there are no youth leagues, very few formal youth teams, and overall very little youth development. Does my presence in Mafeteng motivate the government to provide funds, or does my presence give the government and LEFA an excuse to continue underfunding youth development? If Right to Play is providing the funds and training for physical education teachers in Zambia then what reason does the government have to provide the same service? If an NGO steps in to fill a gap left by government is that NGO doing a good thing, or simply bailing out the government?

May 25, 2010


I just returned from Maseru. I think this is the second post I have written after returning from a trip. I don't know why it triggers that. I am enjoying Maseru less and less every time I go. I only go when I am called in for meetings. In the past the positive side of it was that I could go to restaurants and had a variety of food choices as opposed to papa le nama(papa and meat. Papa is a staple food. It is maize meal that is cooked in boiling water to produce this...stuff. I don't know how to describe it, but it is like a hardened porridge that you eat with your hands. I like it!).

I could also buy real coffee. Whenever I was in Maseru I would gorge myself on pizza, fill my backpack with coffee and head back to Mafeteng. Recently I discovered that one of the two hotels in Mafeteng makes pizzas. It has changed my life. Now I go there once a week for pizza and the only positive benefit from going to Maseru is picking up coffee, so the allure of Maseru is fading.

I think another reason that the bright lights of Maseru are dimming in my eyes is that the public transport can be trying. Where ever I have lived and travelled I have enjoyed taking public transport. I think my mom can attest to that after visiting me in China and letting me plan our trip. I don’t hate the minibuses in Lesotho; I do enjoy them, but if you have a schedule to adhere to then minibuses are not the way to go. It sort of comes back to the idea of ‘African time’. The trip from Mafeteng to Maseru is 80km. There is also some road construction going on that slows the trip down, but my journeys have ranged from one and a half hours to about four hours for a one way 80km trip. The biggest delay is usually that the minibuses will not leave until they are absolutely full. For some reason it reminds me of a math problem from grade 9. I think it was grade 9 math where you were given a situation such as movie ticket prices and the number of people that would purchase them. It was a model to figure out what price the ticket should be to optimize profits. It would state that X number of people would buy tickets if they were Y amount of $. Then it would say if you raised the price by a certain amount you would lose a certain amount of customers. What is the optimal ticket price? Anyways, I wish some clever African minibus driver would figure this out because in terms of cost-benefit analysis, waiting an hour for that one last person to join your minibus does not seem efficient.

Anyways, in Mafeteng we have 3 different types of minibuses. We have large 15 seat buses that I take when I feel like travelling in luxury because they seem to restrict the number of passengers to the number of actual seats available in the minibus. We also have large 20 something seat buses that are cheaper and they jam as many people in as possible. I will sometimes get dragged into these ones. When I arrive at a taxi rank there are always a number of guys standing and running around to recruit passengers. So as soon as I walk into the taxi rank I am mister popular: U ea Kae? U ea Maseru? (Where are you going? You going to Maseru?). Eh, Ke ea Maseru (Yes I’m going to Maseru). At which point I will sometimes let myself get dragged into a bus. A couple of weeks ago on my way to Maseru I arrived at the taxi rank when one of these buses was already full and I had to stand in the isle. The only problem was that I think they must have added seats or something because there was basically no isle. The only possible way for me to fit in the isle was for me to stand sideways. The only problem was that my crotch was in one persons face and I was basically sitting on the shoulder of the other person behind me. Not a great configuration when you are driving through road construction. I remained in this position for the two hour trip. But, nobody seemed to mind. That’s one thing I like about the minibuses. Everyone is so accommodating. It results in these human jigsaw puzzles – or more like the 3-D block puzzles.

I already mentioned the guys who stand around the taxi rank finding passengers. Aside from the actual minibus drivers there is another essential position within the minibus transport system. Every minibus has a ‘door slide’. I think this is their name. (You can see the door slide guy in the left of the picture).

Their job is to open and close the door for people, collect money, and solve the human jigsaw puzzle. The door slide job in the big 20 seat bus and the 15 seat luxury bus are not very challenging. However there is a third type of minibus that I often use that seats 12, but I think I have been in a couple with upwards of 22. These ones really challenge the door slide’s spatial IQ. It’s an interesting experience to cram that many people into a bus, but at the same time you wonder when the driver and the door slide decide that they have a full bus. It amazes me that when we have 20 people jammed into our bus the driver is still honking his horn and trying to find more passengers. Sure enough, he’ll find a passenger, the minibus stops and then the door slide goes about figuring out the puzzle. It’s usually the older, larger people that get seats and then the younger, slimmer, school children get tucked into whatever space remains.

The best example of this willingness to accommodate was when one of the minibuses I was in got into a small accident. The driver had to let us off, so he could figure out the details. I was worried we would have to wait for a long time to get another bus, but they just flagged down another minibus to take us. This minibus was already full, but nobody complained and they just made room. After the puzzle was solved and everyone had their space we were on our way. Between being in the accident and getting on the new bus and leaving I think was less than five minutes. People were crammed everywhere and there were bags piled from floor to ceiling in front of the first row of seats. Every imaginable space in that bus was occupied. After driving for a few minutes we stopped and I wasn’t sure why because nobody had indicated that they needed to get out. From my angle the door slide guy seemed to reach into this massive pile of luggage and he pulled out this little school boy. The boy was probably about 4 or 5 years old, but quite small for his age, wearing this bright blue school sweater and grey dress shorts. The door slide tucked the boy under his arm like a football, left the minibus, waited for a break in traffic and then ran the little boy across the street and into the school grounds. Touchdown! I think it was the cutest thing I have ever seen.

(Here's a quick picture I took of the Mafeteng taxi rank. It only shows a small part of it. I'm quite self-conscious when it comes to taking photos. I don't know why I think I just don't like drawing attention to myself. It is not for safety reasons. I'm not worried about some guy running up, stabbing me and taking my camera. It is just my own neurosis. The taxi ranks are incredibly active, vibrant, and intimidating - especially in Maseru. I couldn't imagine larger African cities. If I work up the nerve I'll try to snap a couple of better pictures to post).

May 21, 2010


A couple of weeks ago the Minister of Gender Youth Sports and Recreation announced the launch of the National Volunteer Youth Corps. It will be funded by the United Nations Development Programme and is set up almost like internships for students to gain skills. When it was introduced in parliament it came under some criticism because opposition parties felt like they were not informed and that selection for the Youth Corps could be along party lines. At first I thought it was just typical political jostling - especially because there was a huge banner hung in the middle of Maseru for weeks prior to the announcement. I don't even live in Maseru and I new about this launch. But it turns out youth groups like this in Africa have a tendency of turning into militias – including a similar youth group in Lesotho in the early 90s that evolved into an intimidation force for the Basotho National Party.

This by itself is an interesting topic, but it isn’t really the reason why it got me to write this post. The article got me thinking about the idea of volunteerism and wondering why people volunteer.

Since high school I have spent time volunteering, mostly as a youth soccer coach. I am not exactly sure why. I do enjoy soccer, so becoming a coach seemed natural. I have always known that it is also good for the resume, but I would not say that this was my main motivation. As well, I enjoy being thought of as someone who volunteers. Knowing that other people know that I volunteer makes me feel good about myself. Maybe it is also because I have a hard time saying no to people.

For my current position I am considered a volunteer I suppose. The current title is development worker, but Skillshare is thinking of changing it to international volunteer. I would have a hard time convincing myself that I am a volunteer though since my ‘stipend’ is pretty close to ten times what the average person living in Lesotho earns.

I am sure that other people volunteer because of similar reasons to what I described. I imagine family also plays a large role. Once you have children and those children become engaged in community activities then some parents will get pulled in. Financial security also plays a role. In North America and Europe there is a correlation between civic service and social class.

Lately I have been giving a lot of thought to why people in Lesotho would choose to volunteer. It seems like volunteering is almost a mandatory undertaking. Many of the organizations working here in Mafeteng including: World Vision, Red Cross, the police, government ministries, community based organization, and other NGOs all employ volunteers. These volunteers are almost always unemployed youth who have just recently finished school – either high school or post secondary studies. The programmes I am working with all involve volunteers – which makes things difficult because white people bring jobs and all I am bringing is a training programme for volunteer youth soccer coaches. I think that at least once a week I have been approached by people looking for employment. I explain to them that my project only involves volunteer soccer coaches. They usually have a hard time believing this and will go on to try and convince me that I can find a position for them in my project. On a side note, I have found that the other thing that white people bring to Lesotho is educational scholarships. I think this is also related to the fact that I am Canadian and CIDA

(the Canadian International Development Agency) has provided funding in the past. So, when I introduce myself as Canadian I am often asked if I can sponsor someone’s education. I have also met a number of people who have studied at Canadian universities or have had siblings study in Canada. The picture I have posted here is of a local primary school. It has CIDA on its sign board, but I haven't asked it the school received funding from CIDA.

Anyways, I’m getting off point.

Why do people in Lesotho choose to volunteer? Culturally the idea of helping others is present. Pre-colonial southern African societies relied on collectivism and mutual aid to meet basic needs. Solidarity and reciprocity are strong cultural beliefs. Colonization may have contributed to the erosion of these beliefs through putting pressure on people to provide (how's that for alliteration?) services to the colonial powers as opposed to their communities. The importance of volunteering in a context that involves such a high prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS is also relevant. One of the things I gained from organizing the Coaching for Hope workshop was learning how much people genuinely want to help their communities deal with the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

However, I feel that for the most part volunteering is done to gain skills and contacts in the hopes of obtaining future employment. When 50% of the population is unemployed and so many people are living in extreme poverty, gaining employment has to be a motivating factor. I believe this is the government’s main reason for establishing the National Youth Volunteer Corps. It seems that most graduating students are forced into volunteer positions, so maybe the government is just trying to formalize this process. Or maybe they are establishing militias in the build up to elections in 2012 – I think they are in 2012.

The issue of what motivates the volunteers that I am working with is fairly important for future recruitment and retention, but I have begun to question the retention of volunteers in my situation. I was reading through an evaluation report of one of the organizations I work with and a problem that they identified was losing volunteers to employment with other NGOs. I would not necessarily view this as a problem. I don’t know how you could expect someone to remain a volunteer when they are unemployed and need money to support themselves and possibly their families.

Because of the perception of white people brining jobs I also wonder how many people have signed up for my programme in the hopes that they will be employed by the project in the future. Some Coaching for Hope employees in South Africa, Mali, and Burkina Faso are former volunteer coaches. I don’t know if the volunteers here in Lesotho know this, but I often wonder if it motivates them.

In a way I am glad that I am not in a position to employ anyone. With so many people unemployed, job searches and employment opportunities take on a greater significance. LENEPWHA just recently received applications and interviewed candidates for a position relating to the project I am working on. I had very little input on who was hired. There was a local project advisory committee that held the interviews and chose the candidates. Some of the volunteers for my soccer programme were applying for this position. Because I was working with LENEPWHA, I believe that they thought that I would be able to help them get the position. I am not sure of their qualifications, but they were not chosen for the final interviews. I think they were quite angry with me and resented the fact that I could not get them the job or even an interview. I could only imagine what it would be like if I actually was responsible for hiring someone.

May 17, 2010

Lesotho successful in U-17 and U-20 Qualifying


The Under-17 and Under-20 Lesotho national football teams have made it through the most recent stage of qualification for their African youth championships and will move on to play Cameroon and South Africa respectively. These results have come just after LEFA (Lesotho National Football Association) announced it would not enter the senior team into qualification for the 2012 African Cup of Nations. They made the decision because of financial reasons and also because they wanted to focus on youth development. Obviously, LEFA is using these results to justify and celebrate their decision.

BBC has a radio interview here

The other side of the story is that a lot of people in Lesotho are laughing because they believe that the U-17 and U-20 teams are age cheating, which would definitely not be contributing to football youth development in Lesotho. Age cheating is not something I gave a lot of thought to before arriving here. When I was younger I would sometimes watch the Little League World Series and there would sometimes be accusations that players in that tournament were above the age limits, but it was something I never really encountered growing up. However, from what I have read, and from talking with football people in Lesotho and South Africa, it seems that in Southern Africa, age cheating is quite common place - I would also recommend checking out this article which is quite good regarding ‘football age’ in Africa. The authors of both articles link the problem of age cheating back to poverty and believe that players believe that if they can make their way onto development teams then they will stand a better chance of playing professionally. So, if an 18 year old can find his way onto a professional team’s U-15 development team then he will have a better chance of getting a contract with that professional team.

Today was a holiday in Lesotho, Ascension Day, and a U-15 tournament was held involving eight teams. I wasn’t involved in organizing, but was invited to watch. It is about the fourth local youth tournament I have been able to attend. At every tournament there have been issues with teams using over aged players. I am not sure what the reasons are here in Lesotho because there are no professional teams. I think it might be a combination of the rules not being explained adequately, a lack of underage players, and just over competitiveness.

Maybe it also comes down to cultural perceptions of age. I grew up playing youth sports where every chronological age was separated from Under-5 up to Under-19. Age categorization seems to be a little more flexible here. I think age is perceived less as a fixed number and more as a general time period based on your situation in life. I think this is also evidenced by Sesotho terms associated to people. Men are usually addressed as Ntate and boys are usually addressed as Abute. When I first arrived, I received a couple of introductory Sesotho lessons. During the first lesson the teacher asked if I was an Ntate or an Abute. I said I did not know, but since I am 29 I guess I am an Ntate. The teacher said eh-eh (No). She asked if I was married. I said yes. She then said that I was an Ntate.

During this recent tournament I was talking with some other spectators and they were trying to justify age cheating by saying that everyone does it. They even believed that European and North American athletes are also age cheating to the same extent. I tried to explain that it might be very difficult for Wayne Rooney or Lebron James to falsify their ages, but my arguments didn’t seem to sway them.

May 13, 2010

Don't Be Like a Pumpkin

The ABCs and Concurrent Sexual Partnerships

I just returned from a trip to Maseru. I was just there for the morning. The last couple of times I have been in Maseru I have noticed a strange occurance, or at least strange for me. During the last couple of visits I have been asked a number of times if I have found a Basotho girlfriend in Mafeteng. I didn't even know that I was looking for one. Maybe it is because winter is approaching and cold weather motivates people to find partners. The people who are asking know that I am married, but they are still surprised when I say that I do not have a girlfriend in Mafeteng.

I think it exemplifies a cultural difference regarding relationships. The practice of having concurrent sexual partnerships (two or more sexual partners at the same time) is fairly common in East and Southern Africa and for the most part is accepted if everyone is discreet. There are also polygamous relationships which are obviously not discreet. Over the course of a life time the average number of sexual partners that a person has in these cultures and in cultures that practice monogamy, or serial monogamy, are quite similar. The difference is in the timing. People here in Lesotho may have long term committed relationships with a number of people, whereas in Canada we will move from one committed relationship to the next committed relationship – I realize this isn’t always the case in either country, but I am just sticking to generalities. I was at a workshop and one man referred to it as horizontal and vertical polygamy.

I am not trying to moralize or say one way is ‘right’ and the other is ‘wrong’. However, over the last few years the practice of concurrent sexual partnerships is getting more attention in the field of HIV/AIDS prevention. The acronym ABC is fairly common in HIV/AIDS prevention programmes: Abstinence, Be faithful, and Condoms. I think that usually the A and the C garner a lot of debate and discussion, but over the last few years more campaigns are now focusing attention on the B. In Lesotho the OneLove campaign started about a year ago.

It seems logical that people in concurrent partnerships face a greater risk of being infected. If I am with one person and we break up I can get tested and know my HIV status. In this manner I would be able to take actions to make sure that I do not spread the virus to my next partner. However, if I am in a long term relationship with a number of people, and those people are also in relationships with a number of people then it becomes a sort of sexual network. Also, because we are in a long term relationship the necessity for condoms is undervalued. However, as soon as one person in the network becomes infected then there is the potential of infecting a large number of people.

The message on this poster is "Don't be like a pumpkin." It refers to a sesotho proverb which goes, “men are like pumpkins, they spread themselves all over the place, and women are like cabbages, they hold themselves in one place.”

I have also been reading some articles that have talked about countries that a number of years ago identified concurrent partnerships as an issue and were running campaigns to address it. For example, in Uganda a ‘Zero Grazing!’ campaign was initiated by Ugandans in 1986 and was effective in reducing the number of people who had multiple partners and was showing some results in decreasing HIV rates. This was before funding for prevention efforts or condoms were widely available in Uganda. In the early 1990s outside agencies such as the World Bank and USAID came into Uganda and basically silenced the Zero Grazing campaign in favour of promoting the use of condoms. HIV rates continued to decline until the year 2000 when rates started to slightly increase. The increase is attributed to the fact that more people are now involved in concurrent sexual partnerships and because these partnerships are committed relationships condom use is not consistent.

May 10, 2010

Get Out of my Country!

Yesterday I saw another white person in Mafeteng. I seldom see other white people walking around. It has only been a handful of times in the last couple of months. Usually I’ll see cars zip by with South African plates and white people inside. I know that the Peace Corps has a large contingent of volunteers in Lesotho, so I shouldn’t be that surprised.

This girl that I saw yesterday got me thinking about the way I react to other white people when I am living abroad. Before I get into that I’ll just quickly describe how I met her. I was going into our main supermarket, Shoprite – it is a South African chain. You have to check your bags before you go in, so we bumped into each other at the bag check. I said hello and she sort of looked at me and just walked off. Later that day I was walking down the street and the same girl was walking towards me. I am sure she recognized me as the same white guy that she saw at Shoprite because I am pretty much the only one in Mafeteng. As we approached each other I think I must have appeared like a Basotho person when I am approaching them. I was staring at her waiting for her to make eye contact so that we could greet each other, but as we got closer and closer she would not look up. I must have looked like I was holding my breath, with my face getting redder, and veins popping out of my forehead.

Anyways, her reaction to me reminded me of how I sometimes felt in China as an expat (expatriate) – I don’t think I even knew this term until I started living in China. An expat is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person's upbringing or legal residence. In China when I would see other white people I would always have this ‘Get Out Of My China’ gut reaction. For some reason, as someone living in the country my immediate reaction was contempt for this person who I assumed was just a tourist. You don’t understand the country, the culture, or the people. Why are you here? It is really a bizarre and embarrassing reaction. It is also selfish because I think when you travel there is this perception that you are having unique experiences and when you see other people possibly having similar experiences it is easy to resent them. I should say that I never acted with resentment or contempt towards people. I am sane enough to recognize my own insane judgments.

I imagine that this girl who brushed me off was having a ‘Get out of my Lesotho’ moment. She is probably a Peace Corps volunteer living in a small village. She came to town to stock up and she saw me. At least this is the story I have made up for her and I have based the rest of my post on this story, so you are just going to have to go with it. It would be a waste of your time to come up with more logical reasons for her behavior. Maybe she is just antisocial. Maybe I scared her because I was staring at her and it looked like I was holding my breath, and getting really stressed out and frustrated. Anyways, back to our Peace Corps volunteer. If it is true that she was having a GOOML moment then I have a couple of problems. The first problem is that the culture we are living in places such an importance on greetings. If she is snubbing me because she thinks I am tourist then I think she has missed something. Most of the Basotho go out of their way to greet visitors. In most other countries I would not get worked up about another person not greeting me, but here it seems heretical.

The other problem I have with her behavior, or at least the behavior I have invented for her, is that I do not feel the same way in Lesotho as I did in China, so there is no reason for her to feel that way. I am living in a community with almost no expats, so I would have thought that I would have even a stronger reaction to seeing other white people, but I don’t. I think it is because I am maturing or more likely it is because I still feel like a tourist in Lesotho. The people in Mafeteng have been very welcoming. Now that I live here, even if only for a short while, they assure me that I am a Makaota. If I were here for one year, two years, or five years, I think I would still feel like a tourist. I am not sure why I feel this way. Maybe in China there was a strong expat community and belonging to a community connected me more to the place. Like I said, the people here are very welcoming and I am not excluded from anything, but I am still isolated because of where I come from and what I have. I feel like a tourist because I have the option to leave if things are too difficult or if I need a break. Maybe for that reason I haven’t developed this weird possessiveness of place and experience.

As an afterthought, I should add that I still get these feelings when I visit Maseru, the capital of Lesotho, so I don’t have to worry about becoming more mature. Maseru is the center for many of the NGOs and foreign organizations and there are many expats. I guess these feelings are not directed at tourists so much as at other expats. Whenever I go to Maseru and see other white people I still get a feeling of contempt - You are just hiding in Maseru, you don’t know the real Lesotho – I should also say that I know how ridiculous these judgments are. What is the real Lesotho? It would be ignorant to try and define this. Maybe I just have some warped sense of competition where I feel superior because I imagine my experience to be more ‘authentic’ or involve more hardship.

May 5, 2010

Coaching for Hope Workshop

I just wanted to post this to give people an idea of what I am doing and will be doing in Lesotho. I alluded to it in my Sport for Development and Peace post, but didn’t provide much detail.

Last week I hosted my first Coaching for Hope workshop. It was one of the more intense working experiences I have gone through. Imagine being placed in a completely new country, a new culture –both social and professional – and having a couple of months to plan a workshop. The workshop runs from 8:30am to 5:00pm for 7 days. It includes food and accommodation for 40 local participants - you also have to recruit these participants - and it also involves hosting four coaches/facilitators from South Africa and the UK. When I write it out it actually doesn't seem that bad, but trust me, it was hectic.

The workshops focus on preparing local coaches to implement soccer sessions as well as HIV/AIDS cross over sessions. A cross over session involves incorporating information on HIV/AIDS and life skills into a soccer session. For example, a cross over session might include a passing game which involves risk and decision making. This activity could then lead into a discussion on high risk and low risk activities and making good decisions.

Overall I believe that the workshop was a success. Unfortunately we lost one of our UK coaches to the Icelandic volcano – not lost as in deceased or sacrificed, but her flights were cancelled.

In my Sport for Development and Peace post I talked quite a bit about my reservations regarding programmes like the one I am working on, but I think going through an actual workshop and seeing the enthusiasm and excitement of the local coaches has provided me with some optimism moving forward. I am optimistic, but still slightly skeptical. It will be interesting to see how it all develops.

If you are interested in Coaching for Hope I would recommend checking out the link I have on the left of my blog. As well as learning about the programme you will get to see pictures of David Beckham when he visited Coaching for Hope in Cape Town. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your point of view, he manages to keep his shirt on - I think.

May 4, 2010

Doom and Gloom Binge

I think a lot of people might wonder how I have ended up working in Africa. In fact, for the last few years I have been slightly obsessed with this type of work and Africa in particular. If somebody were to ask me why I have come here I am not sure I would have a good answer. It is something I have reflected on quite often – after finishing a degree in education I think I can reflect the crap out of most situations. In fact my powers of reflection may be bordering on superhuman and are a big reason why I am doing this blog. Why would I let these reflective powers go to waste?

Anyways, how does a kid from small town Canada end up in Africa? Growing up I had very little, or no interest in politics, history, or social issues. Through most of university I managed to maintain this apathy. I have to be careful what I say here because I don't want to come across as virtuous. My intention is not to stand on a soap box lecturing people on becoming more engaged. Development or charity workers are often unquestioningly praised, but I would be misrepresenting myself if I tried to come across as completely altruistic. I am here, and involved in this work, for a variety of reasons, but many are self-serving.

So, what caused my attitude to change? Through the reflective process I have pinpointed two events that I believe have sent me down this path. The first is travel. I think working in China and travelling around China and Asia exposed me to many issues that I had never given much thought to. I also became interested in travel for the sake of travel. The second event seems trivial, but I consider it more significant. During my final year of university I read a book called ‘Shake Hands with the Devil.’ It seems silly that I would consider reading a book a significant event, but I suppose I am easily influenced. I can’t remember who

recommended it or why I read it, but it shocked me for a couple of reasons. I was shocked by the fact that an event like the Rwandan genocide occurred and I knew nothing about it. This is not a condemnation of the media. Like I said previously I had no interest. My mom is constantly listening to CBC and I am sure at some point I heard about the genocide, but never gave it a second thought – scratch that, I never gave it a first thought.

The second thing that shocked me was that I had a strong emotional reaction to the book. It made me quite sad and angry. This may seem obvious, but if you know me then you know that I am about as emotionally expressive as I am verbally expressive. On an internal level I would also say that I don’t experience emotional highs and lows. Therefore, having this reaction to ‘Shake Hands with the Devil’ was fairly significant. It also sent me on a binge. I ended up searching out and reading books that were about atrocities, genocides, disease, poverty, etc. Most of these books were about Africa. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I have come to Africa to satiate some emotional hunger. Like I am a drug addict trying to find the next high. I do have a genuine interest in the work I am doing, but it is hard to deny that emotional extremes are part of the job. This place is very heartwarming and heart wrenching at the same time.

On the other hand there is a certain amount of emotional repression that has to occur in a place like this. People attend funerals almost every weekend – I have been told not to schedule events on weekends because of this. At a meeting a couple of weeks back, during a tea break, we had a 40 minute conversation about funerals. How many people should talk? How long should it be? What kind of casket? What kind of tombstone? Burial or cremation? What food should be served? Everyone in the room was between 30 and 40 years old, but had attended countless funerals and had given a lot of thought to their own. When someone in their immediate family passes away some Basotho will wear a black ribbon or scrap of fabric around their neck for a period of time. Throughout the day I will see a number of young adults and children - including participants in the programmes I am involved in - going about their business with death hanging around their neck.

I think my own perspective has also changed. When my wife came to visit I asked her to bring me a book called ’28 Stories of AIDS in Africa’. Before leaving for Lesotho I attended a Stephen Lewis talk and he recommended the book. Stephen Lewis’ ‘Race Against Time’ Massey Lectures was one of the books I read during my doom and gloom binge, so I decided to act on his recommendation. ‘Race Against Time’ also had a significant impact on me. Both it and ‘Shake Hands with the Devil’ are not incredibly literary, but the facts that are presented are overwhelming. I expected to have the same reaction to the 28 Stories book, but I didn’t. I think it was very representative of individuals with HIV, but after living here for only a few months it came across as common place.

I’m not sure if this is emotional repression or just dealing with reality. Maybe repression for me and just reality for everyone else.

May 2nd, 2010