It’s 8 am the Friday morning of Sabi’s Stomp out Malaria Soccer tournament, and all participants are actively waiting for the weekend to begin. They are assembled, quiet, feet tapping against their metal desks, adorned in both soccer cleats and bitik flip flops. There is an anticipation in the air, and the Peace Corps volunteers attending are sitting in the corner and watching Gambian counterparts begin the day. The counterparts start by quieting the boys, explaining what is to happen over the next 3 days and we all just sit in the background and watch.
The concept of the weekend began with a clear identification of a West African passion: Soccer, and a West African health issue: Malaria. My wonderful friend Elizabeth, an avid soccer fan, and advocate for Malaria thought of an ingenious way to combine the two: use an existing soccer tournament as a platform for teaching about one of the most prominent health issues in this part of the world. She found an incredible counterpart named MPa, someone we all would be so lucky to work with throughout our service. He assembled a team of Gambians to lead the weekend, and Elizabeth did what is perhaps the most difficult but most effective thing we could do as volunteers: stand in the background and allow magic to happen so that our host country national counterparts can take the spotlight.
I have never seen Gambians take such initiative, teach so effectively or be so passionate about something. As with all things here, things were late, and imperfect but with the imperfection came this understanding that the people running the program had never been given the trust or opportunity to educate like this before.
Friday and Saturday were devoted to allowing the counterpart team teach the kids about Malaria, have the kids do a pre-test and use the Grassroots Soccer curriculum as a way and method to make the learning fun. The afternoons were devoted to the soccer tournament. On Sunday, Elizabeth and fellow PCV Jess, created a Malaria health fair which had the kids rotate rooms to learn about all aspects of Malaria: prevention, proper bed net use and malaria transmission. It was genius.
There was a small army of Peace Corps volunteers there to help, but the beauty was that we barely needed to do anything. As the people who were translating our lessons for us took over and began to teach themselves, we were able to relax and just make sure things ran smoothly. I mentioned a quote in my last blog, or a mindset that I think we all should have as Peace Corps volunteers: “Go with the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say ‘we have done this ourselves.’”
This was the beauty of the program. It will have an impact, I am sure. But it is nothing compared to the empowerment effect. When Elizabeth returned to village after the weekend, the boys on the soccer teams were still partying, the women still chattering, and I bet this will continue. Not because it was a Peace Corps program, but because it was theirs.
“To Empower” was originally published on Musings from Under a Mango Tree
Photo credit: Beth Eanelli, PCV