I have been back from Kenya for over a week now and I have only just stopped having ‘CWB dreams’.
It is as though my brain was still trying to process all the magical, mind-blowing and moving things we encountered.
From the 4000 smiling children we coached, to meeting Massai Warriors and stopping for elephants on the way to ‘work’, it was an unforgettable fortnight.
Despite being my third trip with the charity the impact has been no less profound than previous projects.
Having now had time to draw breath and sift through the flood of memorable moments we witnessed here are my highlights from project Kenya 2.
1. Morning mayhem at the Massai Field
Our trip began October 19 in Laikipia, a remote rural part of Kenya that I had visited on a previous trip two years ago.
Home to the Massai Cricket Warriors (MCW), it is a place full of challenges – from drought and lack of infrastructure to horrifying traditional practices like FGM, beading, early marriage and polygamy.
In 2012 there was real momentum behind the MCW, who as well as developing their own skills, were committed to using cricket to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and the issues mentioned above.
Sadly since then it appears that much of these good intentions have fallen by the wayside.
However we found cause for optimism on our final morning in Laikipia in the form of the 200+ excitable and enthusiastic pupils from Il Polei Primary School.
As mini-tornadoes of red dust swirled around us, the whole of the MCW field seemed to be caught up in an infectious wave of laughter, chanting and flying yellow tennis balls.
Dealing with large numbers, lack of English and little cricket experience this was the first real test for our team and it was one they passed with flying colours. Proving passion and a commitment to being as daft as possible are the key to quality CWB coaching, the team delivered a triumphant session that will live long in the memory.
I just hope that this time the MCW can build on the momentum we created that day.
CWB is due to return to Laikipia in February for an FGM-focused project. It will be fascinating to see how they get on.
2. Marvellous Murang’a
If our time in Laikipia was tempered by the concern about the sustainability of cricket there, then our time in Murang’a provided a welcome contrast.
The green, agricultural county appears as suited to growing cricket as the rich soil and warm climate are to producing crops.
This was CWB’s second visit to the area this year and it was amazing to see how the seeds sewn on the last visit had blossomed in the intervening months.
During our five days there we visited a succession of schools, each more enthusiastic than the last, culminating in the area’s first ever festival.
The children’s excitement for the game was topped only by their fascination with getting to interact with a load of muzungu (white people) – something they had never done before.
Sparked into life by CWB, Murang’a’s new found love of cricket is largely down to the efforts of one man – Mathius Wasike.
The father-of-three was a volunteer football manager before the charity’s visit in February but had always held out hopes of learning to coach cricket.
After taking part in a CWB coach education day he realised his ambition and hasn’t stopped since. Using what little money he makes from selling crops from the family plot, to cover travel expenses he has introduced cricket in six schools and he hopes to grow it further.
Our experience in Murang’a demonstrated how with support from CWB cricket can take root in places with no history of playing the game.
Murang’a also has the fourth highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection in Kenya. Speaking to local teachers many believe that CWB’s use of cricket to raise awareness could play a key role in helping fight the disease going forward.
3. Meeting Eva
The majority of CWB volunteers will be aware of the story of Eva Kawira.
Despite being gravely ill as a result of HIV she hit the winning runs in a game at the Kenwa children’s centre on the trustees’ original trip in 2005.
The memory of the joy this brought a very poorly little girl stayed with Andy, Chris and Ed and was one of the catalysts for starting the charity.
Eva was aged eight then and it wasn’t until spring this year that they found out what had happened to her.
Returning to the area, the CWB volunteers not only heard that Eva had managed to make a full recovery but met her in person.
Eva is now a bright, bubbly and healthy 18-year-old with the world at her feet. Her illness is controlled by medication and she hopes to train as a nurse to help other people with the disease.
Meeting her at her home in Thika with her older sister Susan, we took her back to Kenwa (around an hour away) and spent an incredible morning there.
Eva showed us around the place that was her home for 10 years, a simple, sadly dilapidated place that does extraordinary work and gives children with HIV/AIDS a chance when no one else will.
Later Eva took part in a coaching session for the centre’s current residents and attempted to recreate her batting exploits from a decade ago.
Asked if she remembered the visit from the three trustees all those years ago Eva said it had been a turning point for her.
She said: “After they left I started thinking I am like other children, I am strong, I can play cricket.
“I started thinking about how I would get better, not how I would die. My life changed from there.”
We will have much more from Eva in the coming months as part of CWB’s upcoming 10th anniversary but her story just shows the real difference you can make to people’s lives by volunteering.
The Karate Kids of Baraka Children’s Home
Visiting children’s centre and orphanages in Africa can be harrowing and emotional experiences.
When the bus pulled up outside a concrete block that looked more like a prison than a home in a poor part of Thika I will admit to a sense of trepidation.
As the steel bolts were pulled back and the heavy metal doors were opened to let us in we were introduced to a remarkable group of children who demonstrated the power that sport has to change lives.
Aged between around three and 16 the majority have been relocated from the slums. Many had been orphaned through HIV/AIDS with a common cause of infection being the fact that their mothers had been forced to work as prostitutes.
They greeted us with handshakes and a heart-breaking song that included the refrain, “focus on our future, forget about our past.”
But despite this backdrop of sadness, these were healthy-looking kids with a spark in their eye, threw themselves wholeheartedly into the cricket session we delivered on the dusty patch of ground outside their compound.
As well as the love of the staff at the centre it turned out there was one other major reason for the sense of confidence and spirit in these children – karate.
It turned out that among this rag-tag bunch of kids who had experienced some of the worst things life can throw at you, were a collection of local, national and even African karate champions!
Taught by Elizabeth, a local sports administrator who volunteers at the centre, karate was introduced as a way of helping the children learn self-discipline and respect and keep active.
As a result of her hard work the children have now been transformed into the most feared martial arts team in Kenya. Having come from the worst imaginable poverty and tragedy many of these children have travelled all over Africa to compete and many harbour realistic hopes of one day competing in the Olympics.
Being part of CWB I am sure we all believe passionately in the power of sport to make a meaningful difference to people’s lives. To witness it first-hand is an incredible experience and serves to underline why the work CWB does is so vital.
Elizabeth now wants to use cricket in the same way as karate and we have left equipment there to help her with her mission.
Before we left we were privileged enough to be treated to a demonstration of the children’s karate skills.
They were all amazing but I was particularly struck by Lucy, a pretty little girl of around nine with a steely glint in her eye. An Africa champion, Elizabeth told us that if she is ever unable to make it to practice it is Lucy – despite being nearly half the age of the older kids – that takes the class! I will be watching the 2020 Olympic karate competition in Tokyo with baited breath…