Chapter 1 – from seed, to sapling, to bloom
August 2015. It is typical English late summer’s day, the sun is warm but not overbearing and there is a crispness to the air that hints at autumn’s awakening. There is nothing unusual about the café in a bustling shopping village, but the conversation between myself and Jane Z was nothing but unusual. Since meeting Jane a few years before at a school where we were both employed, Jane had cleverly spiked my creative nature for an adventure I then could have never have imagined. Similar to the manner in which a Netflix series grips you and you are left eagerly awaiting the next episode, so had Jane awakened a curiosity in me that I was finding difficult to ignore. Indeed, her tales of a sun drenched fishing village in Ghana with wild snakes, crocodile infested waters in lush forests, strange spicy dishes and a city with disturbing slaving trade history had sent my imagination into overload. And so, much to my colleague Shane’s dismay, out came the black book and that evening I wrote feverishly an endless list of uninhibited possibilities. I had renamed Jane Queen of the jungle, and together we started to throw some balls in the air.
It was not long before I realised what a unique opportunity lay before us. Bath & Wiltshire Boys’ FA had been founded in 2003 with the intention to develop 4 values through the medium of sport: Responsibility, Resilience, Compassion, Curiosity. What better way could there be of nurturing the values by embarking on a project that would allow a group of 12/13 year olds the opportunity to find out more about themselves and the world than they could possibly imagine. What better way to showcase and develop the four values? What better way to show them a contrast to the ‘me, myself and I’ culture that has enveloped generation Z and the generation before it?
And so there it was. Untidy scribblings on 18 pages in a small black book of ideas that I had no idea how to bring to fruition. All I knew was that it must happen. Jane and her husband Martial suggested we explore the wild idea of building a football pitch in the heart of the village currently occupied by what can only be described as a small jungle! It was outrageous, it was ambitious, it was brave, but it was a way to make a real difference, so we had to find a way.
Numerous phone calls and emails with Jane followed and then it was time to overcome the first challenge, the parents. I pretty much knew the boys would jump at the opportunity. We had taken them already across Europe and they had grown into a very tight-knit and capable group of young people. This trip was exactly what they needed before delving into the depths of teenage-hood. Until then the parents had supported every endeavour with open arms so I had no reason to believe they would baulk at the venture, but this was different. This was Africa. Completely different culture, different climate, different peoples….different. I need not have worried. The parents thought it was a fantastic idea and so the process began.
|To realise a sense of responsibility, beyond oneself.||To explore new depths of compassion and its relevance to one’s personal outlook||To build strategies for resilience in pursuit of a goal||To value the significance of curiosity to enrich one’s experience|
The first task was to organise a fundraising programme and a schedule to prepare the boys through a series of educational seminars in which various tasks had to be completed. The boys were told to raise the money on their own. That meant that donations from parents and grandparents were not allowed. They had to use the four values to raise the money individually and as a group. I could not have been more proud of them. Not only did they organise a number of events such as quizzes, race nights and competitions, but each individual embarked also on a personal journey of entrepreneurialism and bloody hard work to achieve the target set. I believe that they really learned in this time the value of a pound.
The seminars were put together by myself working with Jane from afar. We created a booklet to accompany the seminars which encouraged the boys to research such topics as malaria, hygiene issues, water issues, the climate and dealing with dehydration. It was not just useful for the boys – it was an absolute education for me as well!
In order to organise the days in Ghana, we split the boys into groups, each group having the responsibility for organising a particular aspect of the trip:
– Travel and packing list
– Activities & Itinerary
– Accommodation and food requirements
In addition to this, the boys were to design an English and Maths lesson that they would then deliver to a group of children from the Kokrobite Chiltern Centre run by Jane and Martial. Although daunting at first, it was to be for me one of the highlights of the whole experience, and also a lesson. We should never underestimate the capabilities of young people and their ability to surprise, excel and fly.
I have to confess at not ever being so exhilarated but also apprehensive about a trip before. I had lost count of the number of tours and trips we had done over the years, but this was on another level. I could even forgive the parents for feeling nervous about this one. And so the day finally arrived. The endless hours of preparation, painful injections and tedious communications to acquire visas were behind us, and there we were with a mountain of luggage ready to board the plane for Ghana via Turkey. I am not sure Shane would ever forgive me!