Sent to Coventry?

by Peter Spavin

I went to bed late on a Friday night, after a little drink or two if I’m honest, and wondering what the next day would bring, while ruing the fact that I had to be up and ready to leave by 7:30am!….. on a Saturday!

As I woke I thought I had better just text Pete (Lamb), a fellow Rwandan traveller and my kindly driver. It was to my pleasant surprise that not only was he bringing me a coffee, but I had an extra 5 minutes in bed! 

So off we set, two hours from Coventry, a city neither of us knew anything about, to meet the team of people we would eventually spend nearly three weeks with.

In the main the journey comprised of Pete quizzing me on mental health techniques (I’m a Mental Health Nurse). He hoped he might have some use of it in his coaching sessions. I gave him a run down of cognitive behavioural therapy aka CBT and didn’t think much more of it.

Day 1

We arrived at Finham Park School with five minutes to spare and welcomed into the hall by the CWB coaches. Three tables were set out, one for each Project team and ‘Team Rwanda’ gradually filed in. Luckily due to the fact that we all live in Bristol, Pete and I had already met our team leader, Thom Manning. Thom is a top bloke (thanks Spav – TM), always welcoming, chatty, and with a heart of gold. As everyone else assembled, we were all a little nervous, tentatively introducing ourselves.

It turned out that we’ve got a real mix. Two ladies – Providence an 18 year old bowler, Khush a diminutive but experienced CWB’er and Level Three ECB coach. The chaps include myself a casual cricketer, Pete a better cricketer and coach and Ryan (a rather stacked Yorkshireman) who is our stats man. Along with Thom there’s also Jon, a more experienced gentleman with a positive outlook who seemed to fundraise for fun, and Adrian, an equally experienced science teacher, with an eye for technology….more of which I’m sure you’ll hear in a future post.

The day went off well, with an ice breaker to begin – Which one thing are you closest to being world class at? Following this mini-bonding exercise we heard from Carl who gave us an explanation of the CWB values. We heard lots of moving stories…how CWB was formed, the impact it has had, and some of those ‘wow moments’ that have changed people’s lives, both volunteers and children alike. We also met members of the other two teams. Team Uganda and Team Kenganda – originally team Kenya prior to a change of plan.

This is a good time to introduce Jhon…who is a unique character, he won’t mind me saying he looks a little like Sideshow Bob on account of his wild hair and he has quite a large collection of tattoos. Jhon and Thom met for the first time last year on the 2016 Rwanda Project. Jhon gave Thom the nickname ‘Papa G’ – something to do with his hirsuite body and it’s likeness to that of a gorilla!

Jhon liked this nickname so much he decided to get it tattooed on his own calf!

As you can see Jhon and Thom have a ‘unique’ relationship.

Jhon has quite a lot of hair and Thom has, shall we say, ‘less hair’. At various points throughout the day, usually when Thom was speaking to the group, John would chime in with ‘yes, but where’s your hair gone?’ Maybe you had to be there but for us it was pretty funny and a great example of the relationships you can build on CWB trips. John proceeded to cuddle Thom and as the weekend went on to cuddle everyone else too!

The coaching lessons were simple and not too physically challenging. We learnt some key facts about our countries and about HIV/AIDS. Then we were shown how to reinforce the basic health messages while coaching cricket skills. We finished the day with a promise of a drink before we all met for our evening meal.

Coventry by Night!

We found a great pub called The Phoenix, Aston Villa were on the television, so Jules and Tommy (from the other project teams) and Providence (from Team Rwanda) were happy. There was vegan friendly beer which kept Jhon quiet-ish. Everyone was comfortably chatty by now and we headed off to Cosmo, an all you can eat buffet restaurant in the city centre. As you can imagine most people’s eyes were bigger than their bellies yet this is where Pete’s newly learnt CBT skills came into their own. There I was, halfway through my third plate of all you can eat, facing two big pieces of beef dripping in gravy. I was sweating it out, thinking I couldn’t finish my plate. Then in front of my fellow diners Pete launches into his version of CBT…’How are you feeling? What are you thinking? Do you notice any feelings in your body?

‘I’m feeling quite overwhelmed and clearly I’m a bit hot Pete!’

‘Try and relax’ he says, ‘think about how you can change your thoughts’

The sweats passed and after a few minutes of laughter, the fullness subsided, I finished my beef and gravy and felt ‘back on form, so much so that I went on to have a bowl of Eton Mess for pudding. Great therapy Pete!

Once we had all eaten our body weight in sushi, chinese, indian, pizza and pudding, we headed back to The Phoenix, happy in the news it was open till 3am! Some of the ‘more experienced CWBers’ also showed themselves to be well trained in drinking and chatting and for us newbies this provided a great time to hear some more stories.

Throughout the day there had been another theme which sadly continued through Sunday. Carl would come to the end of delivering a section of training and move the group onto the next task, only to be interrupted by Lee who would remind him that the running order was as written down, not as was in Carl’s head! Pete and myself decided we would ease any potential embarrassment by nominating Carl as ‘Tutor of the Day’. The award comprised of a shot of Knob Creek. Carl didn’t seem to enjoy his prize, but accepted it nonetheless!

Day 2

Needless to say Pete and I were a little worse for wear, but we still made breakfast and still managed to turn up on time for training. The theme for the day was for each team to design and deliver a 30 minute mock training session for the other groups. This exercise really highlighted how far people had come on in terms of confidence. People who had previous been nervous were now delivering coaching with confidence. Providence from our team showed how far she had come, and completed the ‘wrap up’ for our session faultlessly. From the initially shy and quiet person I met a day ago, she was now delivering the HIV message perfectly and with a real calm confidence, it was great to for us all to see.

After lunch we got ready for The Inter-Project Challenge Competition – three teams, three training exercises, to win points, for one team to be crowned the Ultimate Champions. The competition was fierce, we bowled accurately, batted tactically and ran and caught like cricketers possessed. It all came down to the big announcement, ‘Team Uganda’ were confirmed in third place, it was either Team Rwanda or Team Kenganda who would take the spoils.

One team had scored 103 points the other 118… and much to our delight Team Rwanda were crowned champions. Naturally we didn’t let the other teams forget it for the rest of the day!

Some of the stories and pictures that were delivered from the previous trips were truly moving. You could feel the joy on the kids’ faces just by sitting in the room. The overriding thing for me was the team bonding and the boosts in confidence. From the first half an hour, with eight strangers sitting quietly round a table, we developed into a group of well drilled ‘coaches’ delivering HIV messages while teaching cricketing skills. I came away from the weekend with a whole host of new friends, a lot more knowledge, a boost in confidence and a warm heart. Roll on October 13th when we meet again at Gatwick Airport!

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