The experience of my life in Ethiopa (March 2011)
As I’m sure many of you will remember from my earlier report in the Whistler, in March of this year I went to Ethiopia to teach netball and English in 15 different schools. Eight Budehaven girls (myself included), six girls from Truro college and three netballers from the University of Bath were selected to take part in this life changing experience. An English teacher and four netball coaches also came with us. The aim of the trip was to introduce the game of netball to as many schools as possible, giving more opportunities to the Ethiopian girls and students, the ultimate goal being for Ethiopia to be able to have a national netball team, (which has since as a result of our recent visit been approved) in the hope that Netball can become an Olympic sport. The secondary aim was to develop an English language centre in Asossa
Firstly, I had the best time of my life in Ethiopia and feel I have grown so much as a person as a result of my incredible experiences. From the moment we arrived in Assosa, after a very bumpy landing on the red dust runway, we were welcomed like royalty! The local people had dressed in their best clothing and played traditional Ethiopian music in the baking 45° heat to welcome us off the plane. This entertained us greatly as we waited for our suitcases to be unloaded by hand and carefully balanced on trailers ready to be taken to our hotel, immersing us fully into the Ethiopians relaxed and friendly way of life. We had brought with us 45 cases in total most of which contained sports kits to give out to the students of the 15 schools we were scheduled to visit.
On our first day, walking through the street to our first school was an experience I will never forget! Everyone we passed stopped and stared at us, in shock to see white people in their town. Nothing, however, could prepare us for the reception we would receive when we arrived at the schools. Hundreds of children would run out of their classrooms to greet us, their faces lighting up if you acknowledged them with a simple smile or thumbs up. To them we were celebrities! Of course we all knew we were nothing special but their appreciation to us and happiness at our presence never faded throughout our stay which was truly mind-blowing.
Coffee is a big part of the Ethiopian culture and every school we went to organised coffee ceremonies for us to attend, as a token of appreciation to us and to show us their culture, which they were all so proud of. Large loaves of homemade bread were given to us, as well as popcorn and of course coffee (which I can assure you is nothing like the coffee we have in this country!). They would prepare and make it in front of us and whilst we waited would play music, sing and dance for us. The atmosphere was so relaxed and happy with the feel of friendship, and community so strong, we couldn’t help but join them in dancing! Although, I must admit we were terrible at it!
We coached every day both in the morning and the afternoon (the mid-day sun was too hot for us to play or coach) and in between times we had the opportunity to go into the classrooms to teach English. For the people of Assossa, the ability to speak English is vital if they are to escape the poverty in which so many live and if they wish to gain a good job. The children's’ eagerness to learn was unbelievable. Most would walk miles to get to school and if they were just 5 minutes late the gates would close on them, not allowing them in. Despite this they would wait outside all day in the hope someone would let them in so that they could learn at least something that day.
For the aims of our trip to be met and for the development of netball in Ethiopia to continue even after we left Ethiopia, we gave intense training to 15 teachers to enable them to coach the girls at each of their schools the game. The progress they made and the increase in their confidence after just one day of training was amazing and coaching them and their students gave me the greatest feeling of achievement that I have ever felt. Most played netball in bare feet on the red dust. Some had terribly swollen ankles. Nothing stopped them from trying their best and enjoying every moment of life. The people’s enthusiasm and zest for life despite the little they have, as well as their gratitude for every small opportunity that they are given really made us appreciated how much we, in this country, take for granted and the positive impact simply our presence had was overwhelming.
As our trip was nearing its end, a special netball match to be played at Assosa stadium had been arranged. I was part of the team Bath netball side and we played against our fellow English netballers whose team was England South West. Its aim was to show the people of Assosa what a true netball game, with all its competitiveness and excitement was like. We arrived at the stadium via the local ‘bajaj’ (combination of a moped with a bench on the back) and were all overwhelmed by what greeted us. Firstly, although it was called a stadium it was simply a large, dust clearing, it was not this however that shocked me most but the thousands of people that had congregated to watch us play. Despite the heat and dust it was the most amazing game I had ever played in and the atmosphere was electric!
It has been extremely difficult to put into words the incredible experiences I had in Ethiopia but I hope I have given you a taster of what our trip was all about. It has been the most rewarding and emotional journey I have ever been on and it is something I will hold close to my heart forever.
Lastly, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for the great support I received in the lead up to the trip in helping to raise the £26,000 needed to make the trip a success.