Pride eyes: Lilongwe
Following on from our amazing experiences in Zambia’s beautiful South Luangwa National Park, the SARE team geared up for a 10-hour trip in our minibus, Nala, to arrive in the final country of this year’s expedition, Malawi.
We arrived in Lilongwe, where we were to spend the following two and half weeks coaching. On arrival, we had some time to relax and welcome two new Pride Members, Beth and Vanessa, both employees of Pride GameChanger Partner, Czarnikow. Even as new members were beginning their journeys with the Pride, for many of us, our time together in Africa was nearing its end. Emotions were high, while competition between schools and coaches was healthy as we all wanted to make the best of our remaining coaching weeks.
Malawi presented some new coaching challenges as we quickly realised that the children’s’ level of English was not quite up to the level we had become accustomed to as a group. We turned to our excellent team of Malawian buddy coaches, along with our own incredible Hexter, for assistance in communication with the children. As Pride members, we used as much Chichewa as we could and, after two weeks, most of the children had stopped laughing at our attempts to speak the local language. The two coaching weeks were intense; our schedules consisted of a 3-hour coaching session in schools in the morning, followed by 2-3 hours of either coach education or working with a local adult rugby team in the afternoons. The level of rugby in the schools was good and having to rely on the buddy coaches allowed for their rapid development, as they often had to take the first initiative due to the language barrier. Watching the growth of the Malawian buddy coaches was one of the best highlights of coaching in Africa, as it visibly put the lasting impact and legacy of coach education into motion.
In the mornings of the first week, we travelled to three rural schools outside of Lilongwe; Makumbi, Mngwangwa and Chilombo, in preparation for a big tournament day on Friday at Mngwangwa School with over 260 children. The coach education sessions in the afternoons (led by Declan and Ed) gave us the chance to assess the knowledge of our buddy coaches and teachers. We focused our sessions on getting the coaches to find and use their voices as often as possible, while giving them a bank of games and drills to draw on in order to keep the children fully engaged.
Coaching sessions with the adult clubs in the afternoons gave us the opportunity to showcase our skills as coaches, allowing us to plan in far more depth and develop technical skills at a much higher level. Some of us were even able to coach some full contact games. Tournament Day approached quickly and, by Friday, we were all eager to see which school would prevail. The atmosphere was heightened by the arrival of some local DJs (with a massive sound system) and the presence of village chiefs. The stage was set for a fantastic tournament day, finishing with Chilombo and Mngwangwa on equal points until the finals, in which points difference separated Chilombo as winners of the trophy.
Our organisation of the whole two weeks of coaching was helped immensely by the invaluable Wordsworth Rashid, the charity’s full-time Development Officer in Lilongwe. The Pride relies heavily on Wordsworth and his communication with schools in order to keep everything planned and running smoothly. His involvement and integration with the schools and clubs is a huge reason for the success and continuation of the Pride’s legacy in Malawi:
“You guys are awesome. The time management and punctuality this week were fantastic. Even though some of the teams haven’t played before, they were very passionate and committed to playing rugby. The children have their own goals and ambitions and they know what Bhubesi Pride Foundation is doing for them.
We can be pioneers for the development of rugby here.”
Wordsworth Rashid, Development Officer, Bhubesi Pride Foundation
After a thoroughly exhausting week of coaching, the Pride enjoyed a relaxing weekend in Lilongwe, including a trip to a local farmers’ market and an indulgent homemade pancake and omelette brunch, prepared by Matea, Ella and Amy.
The second week provided a similar schedule, with coaching in Mzumanzi, John C and Demonstration Schools. This coaching week gave the coaches of Demonstration School the first chance to work in a school which caters for children with disabilities – an incredibly worthwhile and educational experience. We continued our coach education sessions (led by James and Ben) and focused this week on getting the coaches to create their own games and drills, while encouraging them to implement and progress games of conditioned touch rugby successfully. We also continued our coaching with the older age groups in local clubs. At the end of this week, our last tournament for the Pride rolled around, where Mzumanzi triumphed as clear winners of all three age group finals and took home the Pride’s trophy. After the tournament the Pride was treated to a performance by some traditional Malawian dancers, who produced a dazzling full-costumed display for all the crowds to see.
“The difference between the start and end of this program is amazing. A lot of the children have never picked up a rugby ball before, but now have a love for the game and good enough rugby knowledge to continue playing well into the future.”
James Thompson, Pride member
The Pride, still reflecting on an emotional rollercoaster of the last tournament day, visited a live music festival in Lilongwe called Music Against Malaria. The team had a great night out and spent Saturday morning cleaning all of the tents, cooking and storage equipment in preparation for the charity’s next expedition, starting January.
That night the group enjoyed a meal out at an Indian restaurant, a somewhat unfamiliar experience after self-catering. The following day we relaxed and were treated again to a traditional Malawian meal, kindly made by our driver, Simeon. We spent some time in the evening planning for the next two days (our last days of coaching) at two new schools for Bhubesi Pride Foundation. The Pride also took part in its last 7s touch tournament with local clubs from Lilongwe. Despite the pace of the opposition, the Pride’s skill had only grown since their last matches, as we recapitulated our African 7s careers with a fine technical display, managing to remain unbeaten for the whole afternoon.
The next three days were spent at the scenic Funky Cichlid hostel, beautifully located in the Cape Maclear region of Lake Malawi. After the drive, we arrived ready to reminisce over our memories from Africa. It’s safe to say that we all loved this beautiful end to such an amazing ten weeks in Africa, where we were able to kayak, paddle-board, swim, snorkel and sunbathe.
Build project site visit
After three fantastic days at the Funky Cichlid, we headed back to Lilongwe where the surprises had yet to end as we were taken to see the building site of the charity’s community sports and education facility. On the way to the site, we were overwhelmed yet again as Simeon took us to meet his wife and young baby boy Francis, after much pleading from the team.
The building site was exciting to see and we could visualise the way in which it will transform Bhubesi Pride Foundation’s impact in Lilongwe. The Pride used the newly levelled rugby pitch with a touch rugby game against our buddy coaches from the previous two weeks, followed by a delicious chicken and goat braai with the local building site staff.
Our last night together had arrived, and we drove back to Mabuya to present our leaving speeches to the group. It’s safe to say that all of us were on the verge of tears as we said farewell to each other and to our experiences in Africa… Until we meet again!
“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain until you see their specks dispersing? It’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
Jack Kerouac, On the Road