Naomi and Wilson, two of the Swazi rugby coaches, turn up every day at 8a.m. at the “office” / Michael Collinson’s house to pick up what kit they will need and discuss the day’s programme with Michael, their Team Leader. On a full day, they will visit 4 different schools a day. On the day that we accompanied them, they visited 2 schools, Kutsimleni Lutheran Primary School and the High School, not far from Luve.
We picked up Nancy, a 22 year old who is studying AIDS/HIV Psychotherapy at a college in Manzini. She is a volunteer rugby coach with Skrum and said she sometimes helps coach 4 days a week with them. Her AIDS Psychotherapy will be so helpful with all the school children, whose lives have been devastated by AIDS. We asked her what happens to all the orphans – do they live in orphanages? She said “In most cases they will go and live with a relative, Granny or an “Auntie”, and stay within their community”. I felt that this must be better than an orphanage although hard on Granny who sometimes ends up supporting some 10 children!
Luckily, Swaziland appears such a fertile country and most of the rural houses appeared to be small holdings of a reasonable size and I would imagine that they are able to grow their own vegetables, keep some chickens and goats and grow some fruit trees which will help them to be somewhat self-sufficient.
We dropped off Nancy at a school near her house, showing the Skrum logo on its wall. Everyone in the community helped clear the pitch so that they can play rugby there. What an amazing achievement! During the school holidays, the coaches continue to visit and coach anyone that would like to join in – mums, dads, grannies, children of all ages hence the huge community support for Skrum and its work. Nancy told us that her aged granny also like to play rugby on the community days!
At the first school, we arrived at a grassy pitch (which would make our South African project very envious since they play on a “dust bowl”) and Naomi and Wilson put out their cones and set up the banners – in English on one side “PASS THE BALL, NOT THE VIRUS” and in Swati too on the other. Some 50 children made their way over from the school and on a Wednesday it is sports afternoon and the choice is either Football, Netball or Rugby. Other children went home and many were watching.
The children all played in their bare feet and whilst practising their rugby drills would chant the slogan “PASS THE BALL, NOT THE VIRUS” in Swati. This is a very important part of Skrum’s mission – to teach the children of Swaziland the passion of rugby, emphasising team work, and get across an important message – if you have unprotected sex you are exposing yourself to AIDS and you need to step back and learn to say NO and think about yourself and your future.
The children, both boys and girls, were so enthusiastic, they clearly had been caught by the passion of rugby and treated the coaches with great respect.
After we then went on to the High School nearby and another coaching session started. There was some controversy with the girls- they were expected to play netball but they wanted to play rugby and the netball teacher was insisting that netball came first! Luckily, the netball teacher with several helpers took about an hour measuring out the netball court on the grass, positioning and burying the netball posts and double checking all the measurements so that in the meantime the girls got in their rugby and then played netball for just 20 minutes at the end!
The boys had their coaching separately and again, their passion, commitment and respect were very apparent.
The coaches reach out to some 423 of the 807 schools in Swaziland as well as organizing competitions and tournaments. This is why they really appreciate any help from overseas volunteers so that they can visit more schools and more often. At the moment, they train up the local teachers in rugby coaching so that they can continue with the drills and games in their absence and may only visit a school once a month. With more coaches, they can expand the number of schools and the frequency of visits. Most of the schools that they visit, display the Sipho logo for Skrum on their outside walls and we passed many schools with this on. This is one of the jobs for the volunteers – to paint the logos onto the walls of the schools.
Also, the nature of the rural roads made travel slow and Naomi pointed out that sometimes if they were visiting remote areas, she would stay over so that she could carry on visiting schools in the same area, the next day.
(Volunteer Vacations have placements for volunteer rugby coaches in Swaziland from 28 days minimum. Prices start from £1,600 and include airport transfers, accommodation, food, transport to placements and Level 1 rugby coaching certificate. For more information, see www.volunteervacations.co.uk or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org. Telephone: 01483 331551 Mobile: 07833 208 158)