Sarah Armitage works in the Child Care department at Ridley & Hall Solicitors
She recounts her trip this year to Uganda, Cricket Without Boundaries (CWB): a UK based cricket development and AIDS awareness charity
When my husband told me that he was applying to go and coach cricket in Africa with the charity Cricket Without Boundaries I told him to go for it. What I didn’t expect was a phone call 3 weeks later asking if I wanted to go with him. I love Africa so my automatic response was yes of course I would. It didn’t even cross my mind that I would have to coach cricket to hundreds of children bearing in mind I had never played before.
Cricket Without Boundaries (CWB) is a UK based cricket development and AIDS awareness charity which is run almost entirely on the dedication of volunteers. CWB has three main goals which are to spread cricket through coaching children and teaching adults how to coach whilst linking it to HIV/AIDS awareness. During the coaching sessions they aim to incorporate the HIV messages whilst bringing together and empowering local communities. They have projects in several African countries including Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Botswana and Cameroon.
Since I was little I had always wanted to travel to Africa and volunteer in the local communities so when the opportunity arose to visit Uganda with CWB I jumped at the chance. We had both had previous experience with volunteering in Africa having volunteered in local schools in Tanzania back in 2010. However this trip to Uganda with CWB was totally different and something I will never forget.
Before we departed for Uganda we each had to raise £750.00 which would go towards the cricket equipment we would use whilst out there and would eventually leave behind for the local communities we coached. Having never had any experience at cricket, (except watching Michael on a Saturday afternoon down at Penistone Cricket Club) it is safe to say I was feeling a little nervous before our departure. I had no idea what to expect.
So what is a typical day for a CWB volunteer? The honest truth is there is no typical day! Everyday presents its own individual drama or hurdle to be dealt with, including goats and cows invading the cricket pitch, turning up to find no one there, double booking venues or turning up to 300 children when you only expected 50. We would generally start at 8:00am with a team breakfast and travel to the school we would be coaching at. By 9:00am the equipment would be set up ready to coach either the ever so ready teachers or the eager scores of school children. The first day at the town would be designated to pass over the skills needed by the teachers to continue the work after we had departed. Questions were asked regularly throughout the day, often by myself who alongside the teachers was also learning just as much as they were. But this helped when it came to joining in with the continuous practices of the different skills and games. The second days were when the children would arrive, sometimes all at once to be taught these new and alien skills. The natural talent of both boys and the girls was incredible and they took these new skills into the third and final day competing in the inter-school tournament cheered on by hundreds of spectators.
The main aim of the coaching sessions was to get across the ABC messages (Abstain, Be Faithful and Condom (Protection)) and also T for Testing to the children and adults. By the end of each session each child would be singing or shouting their ABCs and it was obvious that the message was getting across. We visited 3 different towns throughout our time in Uganda and the level of understanding of HIV and the ABC messages varied upon our arrival. However by the end of our time in each town all the children could tell us what the ABC stood for and were able to talk about how to prevent HIV.
There was a huge variation in skill levels within our group ranging from newbies like myself and a few others to an England international. We were joined by the England Women’s and CWB ambassador Holly Colvin. What struck us all was the enthusiasm of the local teachers and how much they enjoyed the sessions, in particular the women. I met some fantastic women who were very inspirational, in particular Grace and Betty. Betty was an amazing woman who was so enthusiastic about the HIV element of the coaching, especially stamping out the stigma which is attached to HIV/AIDs. In Betty’s spare time she worked at a local testing centre and was very keen to get the local children and adults tested. So much so that on the day of Mbale’s festival she was able to organise HIV testing for the adults who had turned up. This was a first for CWB in Uganda and is hopefully something that will continue in the future projects. Betty was able to bring a mobilised testing centre to the festival and 20 adults and teenagers were tested for HIV. For the children who couldn’t be tested Betty and her colleagues sat the children down to talk about the implications of HIV and how to prevent it.
Our trip wasn’t all about coaching cricket it was also about meeting the local people both children and adults. On our rare afternoons off we decided to visit a local orphanage and baby home in Mbale. This was definitely an eye opener for all of us and also very emotional. The baby home was home to around 30 -40 children all aged between 3 months – 6 years old. We spent the afternoon playing with the children with the very little toys they had, but we didn’t let this stop us and managed to make fun out of even the smallest of things. Most of the children were orphans, with their mothers dying of HIV, malaria or during childbirth but there were some who had been abandoned by their parents. This we witnessed at first hand. During our first afternoon at the home one little boy had been abandoned at the local hospital and brought to the orphanage screaming his little head off wanting his mum. It was definitely a heart wrenching experience I will never forget. However when we returned the next day the little boy was no longer sobbing and screaming but a happy and giggling little boy craving some attention (Which I was more than to oblige with as you can see from the photo.)
I have taken away some amazing memories from our 2 weeks in Uganda and will never forget the experience. I met some fantastic and inspirational people, some of whom we are still in contact with and one day hope to visit. For anyone wanting to get involved in a project with CWB I couldn’t recommend it enough. For more information on how you can get involved visit the website on www.cricketwithoutboundaries.com. I think I can safely say that we will both return to Africa on another project with CWB, if not in Uganda then in one of the other projects.