Monday morning saw us begin our first full day of CWB activity, following the gentle warm up yesterday of taking ten teachers through a coach education session and running a small coaching session at the Tea Factory.

The hotel may be basic but the view from the restaurant window at breakfast is quite stunning, as we overlook Lake Kivu and the hills of the Congo roll away in the distance. Certainly not the photo that we want to be sending back home to those that we have been fairly short with over the last few months when they refer to the trip as a holiday and point out that we are actually here to work!

After breakfast, when the conversation mostly centred around how everybody had slept and a discussion on the various volume levels of snoring amongst the group (this varied from zero to a level that was described by the roommate as ‘imagine the noise coming from the worst karaoke singer you have ever heard’) we tried to plan our first session of the day, but as there were differing views as to the number of children expected we were all reminded of the message at the training weekend – ‘Expect the Unexpected’.

And so it was off to Agyousa Primary School,  a lovely little school near the lake – and the excitement of the children as our bus pulled up was an eye opener – certainly for those of us on our first trip. We had a fleeting glimpse of what celebrities go through every day of their life, as we were greeted by an excited crowd of faces – energised by the rare sight of some strange people but mostly by the prospect of not having to be in a classroom for the foreseeable.

‘So how many kids today ?’   we naively asked the teacher.  ‘About 2,000’ came the reply, and upon their perception of our obviously worried expression the staff reassured us that they would not be all in one session, there would only be about 1,000 in each. To put this in context the space we had was about 100m by 60m of rocky, partly-grassed, partly-dusted of playing surface. 

There were children everyway we turned and one of the first impressions was how smart they were in their uniform, boys and girls in different coloured clothing and pre P1 (under fives) in a very striking blue and white.

Our welcome was a surprise (don’t forget we are mostly CWB virgins) with a fantastic display of drumming and dancing by the pupils. We were then in to action with Ed leading the intro to 400 or so children from years P1,P2 and P3,  Eric, Emmy and Freddie, our Rwandan ambassadors, were straight in to play as interpreters as very few of the children understood even Ed’s perfect rendition of the Queen’s English, let alone our various dialects.

Some fun, if frantic, sessions ensued with some of the teachers joining in. The coaching of cricket skills was nigh-on impossible, and the delivery of the HIV messages quite difficult given the ages of the participants, but the smiles on the faces of all gave us a clue that we were doing most things right and most importantly everybody was having fun. It was difficult to turn down the endless pleas for tennis balls, but we will have to get used to it.

Now slightly more experienced in coaching 400 children in one session, we were not so phased when the same amount turned up for session two – and once again we were blessed with an array of smiling faces (this time it included some of the CWB coaches too). Structures and lessons plans paled into relative insignificance as the spreading of the HIV message and getting the children active took priority. Gabby’s long blonde hair proved one of the more fascinating distractions for the children, but I think we gave out the targeted messages of cricket and health and when we were invited in to the Head Teacher’s office at the end of the sessions she proudly showed us a trophy that the school had won for netball and hoped that on our next visit there would be an equivalent one for cricket sitting along side it on the shelf.

It was then off to lunch, and after stocking up in a local supermarket we sat on the beach where the conversation centred around the dangers of swimming in Kivu, although Frankie seemed relatively undeterred and vowed to bring relevant attire so that he could have a dip on another day.

The afternoon saw us head off to Rusamaza Primary School in the St.Ambrose area and again the greeting was one of excitement and expectation. The available playing surface was larger, about the size of a football field, and the number of participants smaller (around 360) but the numbers were augmented by having a real-life cow-corner and several goats wandering around as well.

JS introduced another lively session in which girls were in the majority and we were able to spread the message of boys and girls integrating on the cricket field. Once again there were a few language issues and Sachi and I had to invent our own form of sign language, but we involved all of the children across four skill stations, ending with a game of rapid fire where scorekeeping proved the biggest challenge.

It was straight back in the bus then and Edward drove us to the Notre Dame d’Afrique Boys  Secondary school, where our group was much smaller, although it did rise to 80+ at one point. The boys were older than those we had interacted with earlier in the day and some had played a bit of cricket previously – so the messages were picked up considerably quicker.

In the open field environment there were several interested younger observers who we involved by setting up some impromptu games at the side and Gabby had the rare experience of running a fielding drill which included a girl with a baby in a sling on her back (we hoped it was her sister), who dived around quite happily.

At 5pm our training for the day was done. The predicted rain had thankfully stayed away and the temperature was comfortable. So much had been packed in to the ‘working day’ but Graham amazed us all with his multi-tasking skills. Graham is a retired solicitor and on the previous evening had received a call from his daughter asking if he could help a friend who was in trouble with the police and had been arrested. While sat having lunch Graham received a message to say that following his calling in a few favours from former colleagues in Birmingham he had secured the release of the said friend.

Ed showed all his previous touring experience by taking orders for the evening meal at 4pm so that our food would be ready at the restaurant at 7.30.  At 8.15 our meal arrived with most of the tourists opting for safer choices on the menu while our ambassador hosts educated us on the local cuisine which we tried small portions of, with the facial expressions of our team ranging on a spectrum somewhere between ‘yes, I don’t mind giving that a try’  to ‘fish and chips it is for the rest of the trip then ‘.  The conversation around the table was interesting and eclectic but one thing that stood out was the unrecognised mutual acquaintances that were prominent throughout the group.

On arriving back at the hotel our leader managed to talk some of us into a night cap in the bar, a good effort for one whose Abstain message this year relates to his alcohol free 2020. A few more tales were retold then it was off to test the snoring levels for another night.  Our first full day in paradise was complete.

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