David blogs about his first experience in Africa.
Having never set foot on African soil prior to starting in my role for CWB, I was quite probably feeling the same emotions as many of our volunteers do in the same situation, ahead of a two week project. Excitement, a dash of apprehension and a sense of adventure. My itinerary was one week in Rwanda and then onwards to join another team in Kenya for week two. There are many of stories – funny, sad and hopeful – from my time out here but before I pick one, I wanted to note something extra special about CWB, which has really struck me in my time on our projects.
I cannot think of another organisation which is 99% powered by volunteers. This alone is some feat, in that anyone who volunteers their time to an organisation can leave just as readily as they join it. But this is so often not the case in CWB. I have seen every single volunteer warmly and readily welcomed into this family. They are then very well trained in the delivery needs of our projects, and encouraged to socialise early on so that a bond is built within our project teams. This lays a solid team foundation before we even head to the airport terminals.
This theme doesn’t disappear in-country, as our talented and dedicated Country Managers, Project Leaders and Cricket Tutors and Coaches take on the mantle of delivering great projects and an excellent volunteer experience. Every volunteer has an important role to play, irrespective of their cricketing knowledge or capabilities, and irrespective of their experience of working in Africa. We all want to reach as many children and community groups as is practical to send a clear message about how to avoid HIV/AIDS and we attempt to break down stigma associated with this illness. And we do this with a huge dollop of fun through coaching and playing cricket.
To segue not-so-neatly onto one story which has really touched me during my time away – Eva.
Some ten years ago, our founding (and fantastic!) trustees, Andy, Ed and Chris, decided to take a trip from Cairo to Cape Town, coaching cricket and raising awareness about HIV/AIDS en route. As they reached kenya, they spent a little time at KENWA in the Kenyatta slums (about 30 mins from Nairobi).
KENWA is an outstanding organisation, set up by women suffering from HIV but wanting to create a supportive and profitable network of women suffering from the illness by creating opportunities to earn money, and more importantly, creating a support group for each other. So often people suffer just as much from the stigma attached to HIV as they do the illness itself – being thrown out of their homes, disowned by family and friends, and shunned by their communities.
KENWA also supports children suffering from the same stigma and physical symptoms of HIV. One of these children was an 8 year-old girl called Eva. As Andy, Ed and Chris were starting to play cricket with a number of the children in slum, they noticed that Eva seemed unable to join them. She looked so frail, and it looked as though, very sadly, she would soon be lost to HIV/AIDS. However, our trustees’ enthusiasm and dedication to including all people in their activities, lead to Eva joining the game. Ed helped Eva hold a cricket bat and play the winning shot of the game.
As the trustees moved onto their next location, all that they knew was that Eva was soon to start receiving medication for HIV. They hoped that it was not going to be too late for her….
Fast forward ten years and here I am in kenya, near to that very same slum, with an energetic group of volunteers. Three of us took time out from playing cricket in the schools to build contacts with other organisations working on HIV. We found KENWA, and knew of Eva’s story. So, we asked whether the workers their could remember her. And if so, what had happened to Eva.
To our complete disbelief, and uncontrollable tears of joy, we heard that Eva was not only alive, but very well indeed. She was now 18 and was living with her sister near to where we were based. Even more incredibly, we met Eva and had the chance to embrace someone we had never met, but felt we already knew. More tears, and hugs later, and happy exchanges about CWB, we listened to Eva’s story. She was now very well, was waiting for her exam results, and wants to study as a nurse as soon as she has her grades.
This is just one such story that so many of our volunteers will have experienced during their time in Africa. It has truly inspired me, and I feel extremely privileged to be in a position to support CWB in its future development, so that many more happy reports can come back to the UK about a declining prevalence of HIV and the stigma attached to it. And, of course, the growth of a thoroughly enjoyable sport across this amazing continent.