Uganda West: Cricket is for everyone

Today is International Day of the Girl Child, and as we ran around the fields of Masindi coaching the best part of 1,000 children my mind turned to why we play this crazy sport on the rough dustbowls of sub-Saharan Africa, where most children are more used to netball (the girls) or football (the boys).

I suppose the brackets in the paragraph above tell the story. Much like at home, sport here is split along gender lines. In fact, even lines are split along gender lines – if you ask a school to make two lines, they will automatically form a line of boys and a line of girls, always with at least a foot of space between them.

And therein lies the benefit of playing cricket. As a new and strange sport, children here have no expectation that cricket is a sport for boys or girls. As far as they are concerned, it is a sport for everyone. Boys and girls. Big and small. HIV positive and HIV negative.

As a non-contact sport, where you can succeed by being skilful, or by being strong, or by being fast, or by understanding the tactics of the game, cricket lends itself to inclusion and finding a role for everyone. Add to that the brand of cricket we play, with tennis balls flying, and plastic bats, and yelling and cheering our teammates, and you’ve got a powerful space to start breaking down the barriers between boys and girls.

So, back to today. We started with 4 schools from 9-11, and then a further 4 schools 11-1. A quick lunchbreak then hitting the road to visit two schools “on site”, 2-3 and 3.30-4.30. A packed schedule, but plenty of opportunities to make sure both boys and girls had a chance to bat, bowl and field.

In the morning, games of hand-hockey required boys and girls to work together to complete 6 catches, before a player could have a shot at bowling at the stumps at the other end to score a point. It was nice to see that teams selected a mix of boys and girls to be their penalty taker – once they’d been mixed up both genders were happy to work together.

On the “catching tennis”, the tall 13-year-old girls, in their final years of primary education, dominated the back line, ensuring that the full pitch was effectively defended and stopping the HIV (the ball) from hitting the ground.

Batting was its usual scenes of mayhem, as teams struggled with and then finally grasped the idea of communicating and running together, following expert demonstrations from the CWB coaches.

And finally, on the bowling station, a powerful team of girls in vibrant pink skirts took every other team to big school, demonstrating great command of the bowling technique and whooping and hollering every time they hit their targets for a healthy life.

In the afternoon we had a trip to the Army Barracks school. Following an extensive security procedure, we set up 4 stations of hand hockey and skill relays, in a somewhat challenging space. As I shuttled back and forward between stations, I returned to one half of the team to find an audience of 60 odd onlookers. Time for some impromptu catching! We know that giving girls leadership positions builds their confidence and demonstrates their competence to both boys and girls, so “team captains” were picked from the older girls, who then each had a ring of smaller children around them and ran immaculate catching drills for 15 minutes until we came to wrap up.

Finally, a session at a primary school from 3.30-4.30. Experience tells me that sessions like these tend to be big, and this one did not disappoint. We soon had 16 relay lines on the go, and I have to admit it was a joy to see big and little boys and girls cooperating to make sure their team was the first back to kneel and yell AWOOGA!

A busy, happy day with CWB, and 500(ish) boys and 500(ish) girls coached. Bliss.

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