Project Leader and second time Cameroon volunteer, Dave Terrace, shares his thoughts on the the last two weeks in the ‘Roon’.
The lead up to the Spring ’17 project in Cameroon wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. We had to change our week one destination from Buea to Douala, change flights last minute and deal with a number of personnel changes on the trip. Whilst the lead up was bumpy, the two weeks were relatively issue free. In fact, the trip provided an opportunity to spread the game, build on previous projects and test new ground for CWB. We coached over 2,300 children, training 30 teachers and immersed ourselves in a fascinating foreign land.
The game of cricket is growing in Cameroon, albeit slowly. There is no lack of enthusiasm, passion and skill however there is a chronic shortage of equipment and facilities. This was brought sharply into focus at our training session with the national team. Held on a barely flat concrete schoolyard shared with the local handball team, the team turned up with a couple of bats, some old stumps and a bag of rag tag balls. In contrast to the surroundings, the team illustrated considerable skill and arguably more importantly an unparalleled eagerness to learn from our coaches. The session ended with a Q and A, ranging from fielding positions to how to bowl a slower ball. The team listened intently determined to better themselves despite their lack of resources.
That determination was a constant theme during our time in Cameroon. The teachers who attended the coach development sessions grasped the fundamentals of cricket whilst easily integrating health messages. Local coaches asked how they could improve delivery. The children were keen to share and build their knowledge of HIV protection and understand how they could play a this alien game. The eagerness to learn and willingness to get stuck in is exactly the same as three years ago, as children and teachers threw themselves around hot, dusty and often dangerous pitches to help their team win a game of cricket or rapid fire.
Cricket has developed in the last three years in Cameroon. The coach ed session in Yaounde saw many teachers and coaches attend with previous coaching experience, so we were able to move to more technical points and game adaptation. The annual Commonwealth game was again won by Cameroon as they displayed guile, athleticism and powerful hitting. Perhaps we coached children who hadn’t had CWB before, but the knowledge of the game within the children was still patchy, hamstrung by keeping a straight arm or holding the bat with the hands the wrong way round. Hopefully the skills learnt by the excellent coaches will drive the improvement to make the most of the enthusiasm and natural sporting ability that is abundant in Cameroonian schools.
Whilst cricket is slowly improving, there was a notable improvement in the knowledge of HIV protection. In most schools the children could recite the AB(F)CT message easily. When prompted they could also say what to abstain from and where to test. This allowed the group to explore further questions with the children such as ‘what distractions might make you make bad decisions?’, ‘can you catch AIDS by playing cricket with someone?’ and ‘can a girl say no to a boy?’. The new integrated M and E, trialed for the first time on this trip, allowed room for peer to peer conversations, myth busting and the gathering of information that will surely aid CWB in delivering increasingly more nuanced health messages in the future.
All of this work was only made possible because of the project team. Everyone excelled, no sessions were missed and all challenges dealt with. The CWB team was extended with three Cameroon coaches (James, Abega and Idris) and driving legend Simon. The team bonded early, looking after each other, exchanging knowledge and sharing humour that transcended language barriers. We arrived as strangers and left as friends. We were honoured to be invited to James’ house to meet his family. It felt like we were just extending our family. Ian, Jess, Dom, Sam and Andy, on behalf of CWB I would like to thank you for your hard work, humour and skill. You’ve been incredible ambassadors.
Cameroon itself remains a country as baffling as it is exciting. Douala is a city filled to the brim with motorcycles and choked streets, but contains people as resilient, welcoming and friendly as you will encounter. Yaounde is an underrated city, set on undulating hills with a mix of shanty towns, gleaming churches and modern offices, it perhaps illustrates the heartbreaking inequality that is everywhere in Cameroon. A ride through the streets of the ‘Roon’ is never dull; regular near misses, packed motorcycles and friendly faces make for a fascinating time. Cameroon streets feel like genuine communities that look after each other. Children are polite, enthusiastic and a pleasure to coach. The countryside has lush greens against dark red sands. Unfortunately, the outdated (by Western standards) practices in schools, the shouting teachers and the prison-like class rooms leave a feeling that there is always development work to be done.
Reflecting on this trip, its clear that CWB has a role to play in supporting cricket in Cameroon. By expanding its reach, breaking down barriers to entry and promoting cricket as a sport boys and girls can play together and excel at, it will also promote positive health message and role models. Moving the teaching of health behaviours from chalk and talk classrooms to vibrant peer to peer discussions facilitated by role models and framed with a fun cricket session, has to be the way forward. If the team has convinced one Cameroon child to take up cricket and lead a healthy life, its done its job. I can’t wait to see the development in the next three years!
P.s. couldn’t end without a dabbing picture!