The Rwinkwavu Way

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Well, it has been a full 2 months since I last posted, perhaps because I have just been so into "the system" here.

Not much has changed system-wise in Rwinkwavu, we are still holding 3 trainings, 4 days per week. I have started tweaking practices, adding things to teach, adding life-skill building lessons, and made weekly competitions.  The kids are really improving, not only on the court (they rarely travel now and make 90% of their layups), but in life as well.  The kids have started coming on time more consistently (even though they don't wear watches), have started to show up with their shoes on, and, perhaps most pleasing to me, have started helping each other and holding each other accountable.  These kids are so easy to work with because they are really unafraid to speak up.  When I try to correct a small basketball detail – for example, drop stepping TO the basket and not just anywhere, the kids who understand what I am talking about explain it to the struggling kids more clearly.  I am very lucky to have this group of kids who aren’t afraid to be leaders.

Another nice thing for me has been the coaching development of Patrick – my coaching apprentice.  Not only is he a great teammate to play with in pick up ball, he is funny, responsible, and really cares about the kids we are working with.  It is very easy for me to just shout out a drill, and we will get into it quite fast, especially for the younger kids.  We are able to cover more life skills and basketball lessons in the hour-long lessons that we have than we ever have before because we are becoming so efficient.  Patrick and I have also been instituting themes of the week.  I stole this practice from my college coach, Bob Ghiloni, when we had to memorize “thoughts of the week” and memorize these (sometimes way to lengthy) quotes.  I keep things simple with the kids, so far we have had the themes of:

Itumanaho – Communication

Gushishikaza – Encouragement

Gutega amatwi – Listen well

Ubupfura - Respect

When a kid violates one of these rules, I make sure to explain how what they did contrasts with what we are trying to do, and they usually understand.  I have changed my coaching ways to not just “kwicara” (sit) kids on the sideline if they push in line, but I now pull them aside to explain to them why what they did was not respectful.

Honestly, I have been very strict out here – making kids run and do push ups if they are late, sitting kids out if they push, not allowing kids to practice if they didn’t wear their shoes that I have given them, making kids re-do sprints if they don’t touch the line – but I went into this with high expectations, and it is really starting to pay off, as I can see everyday the kids approach Shooting Touch trainings with an attitude of joy, but also a sense that what they are doing is important.  I am also very happy to report that the enthusiasm for playing amongst the kids has not dropped off, they are still there hours before I get to training, and stay on the court hours passed their normal training time, working on their game.  My first “THEY ARE GETTING IT!” moment came last week, when I was playing 3 on 3 with Matt and 4 secondary kids after training.  I passed to a kid in the post, made a basket cut, and he dropped me the sweetest, most buttery look-away bounce pass.  I almost missed the layup because I was so excited that he did that.  Matt and I had to pause the game and give the kid some love.

We have continued our “match” nights at the library – using the library’s projector to show kids some basketball games.  Every Wednesday night, the kids pack the library to watch, and it gets pretty rowdy, especially after dunks.  The funniest part is how the kids get rowdy even for slow motion replays, to the point where you would think they were cheering for a play in real time.  We also showed “Space Jam” – which was a huge hit, the kids could not stop laughing.  Brad, my good friend here who is working on a music program, and I talked about how foreign of a concept Space Jam would be to this population of kids – almost no one has televisions here, and beyond that, I don’t think many cartoons here exist, not to mention cartoons that interact with real human beings.  Of course, they didn’t understand much of the speedy-English talk, but they really liked the physical humor.  The lack of relevance in showing the kids Space Jam was only added onto by Brad and I’s decision to show them a YouTube video of people falling off of trampolines – which the kids laughed at for all 8 minutes of the video, some laughing to the point of tears.  Brad and I talked after about how far off the concept and existence of a trampoline is from culture here, and imagined what it would be like to explain to them that Americans buy these contraptions so they can jump and fool around.  We also noticed that the kids probably assumed that the purpose of trampolines were to injure people.  Although irrelevant throughout, the kids were entertained, so I was happy.

We have been giving out t-shirts, jerseys, and NBA shorts as well that I have found in the second-hand markets.  For the past 3 weeks, Patrick and I will demonstrate a drill for the kids to practice during the week, and then we have a contest on Thursday amongst the kids to see who can do the most of that drill in one minute.  So far, we have had contests for Milan drill, V-lay-ups, and V-jump stop layups.  This week, its on to jump shots from the elbow for a Kobe jersey

Since I last posted, we also had our first big event as well.  It was actually the idea of the local Partner’s In Health and Rwinkwavu Hospital workers to have a big game on a public holiday.  Adults from the isomero, the hospital, and PIH all formed teams and we had a big match, complete with a scoreboard, timeouts, and fans lining the entirety of the court.  It was nice to see adults from the community involved in Shooting Touch’s program.

From here on out, we have a sizeable list of things to do which include NGO registration, handing out all of our t-shirts and balls, handing out all of our shoes, renovating the Gikondo court, painting and planting grass around the Rwinkwavu court, producing and handing out a English-Kinyarwanda coaching instructional DVD, and holding another large event at each location.  We have taken a look at the projected budget and it is looking like we will be able to install parallel bars for dips and pull up bars at the Rwinkwavu court, which is very exciting!

As for Rwinkwavu’s big event, I am envisioning something similar to the December Classic like we had in Kigali, with a music DJ, games all day, and t-shirt and ball giveaways.

Aside from Shooting Touch stuff, I have been extremely lucky to have done two awesome things since I last posted.  In April, Brad, Isa, Jake, and I went to Kenya for a week during Rwanda’s Genocide Memorial week.  We were advised to not run our programs, as this week was a time for Rwandans to reflect and discuss the events from the past.  So, we went to Kenya to visit my friend and neighbor from Ann Arbor, Wes, who is doing Hyena research in the Masai Mara.  Wes and his Hyena-research friends all live on these camps in the world-famous Masai Mara and research Hyena behaviors to track the effects of human interaction on hyena stress levels.  The eat, live, and breathe hyenas, and this was quite evident when during one dinner, all the researchers were literally gossiping about which hyena did what to whom and why and where.  It was like we were watching Entertainment Tonight for the Hyenas – stories about fights and acts of infidelity. It was an incredible time to say the least, and it would take forever to explain, but basically we ate good food, saw Hyenas having sex and getting stalked by 3 lions simultaneously, saw cheetahs, elephants, topies, hippos, crocs, warthogs, and antelopes.  It was so cool to see Wes in his element, doing what he loved.  From the Masai, we went to Mombasa, took a old-town tour, ate fruits that we have never eaten before, swam in the Indian Ocean, ate seafood that was caught right in front of us, and went snorkeling in underwater caves.  This is the Sweeney coming out in me, but between our trip research and staying with Wes, we took a hugely expensive trip for not a lot of money at all. 

I was also lucky enough to have my parents come out and visit me.  They stayed here for about 12 days and experienced Kigali, Rwinkwavu, the national museum in Butare, the Nyungwe rainforest where we saw a huge waterfall and 20-30 colobos monkeys, and Lake Kivu, where we travelled to Amahoro Island and Napolean island (the island with 4 million bats).  It was awesome having them here, joking, laughing, eating, meeting my friends here, and them seeing what life is like for me.  They really enjoyed all parts of the trip.  My dad especially enjoyed Rwink with its hiking and fast internet - the only two things he really needs.  He is considering coming back to Rwink before I go, which would be awesome.  

 The morning before my parents left, I ran in the Kigali Half-Marathon.  There weren’t a ton of participants, and the course was easily 1.5 miles too short, but it was perfect running weather.  The best moment of the race was when I saw 4 kids with Denison track uniforms on.  My classmate from Denison, Dee, recently went to the Congo to build a library and start a running club.  Dee’s Project Kirotshe was a success as he built the library and brought something to an area of the Congo that was not there before.  Anyways, Dee successfully developed a running team and they came to Kigali to run in the race.  I approached them and showed them my Denison Basketball hat, and through some translation and other things, we understood that the world is very small. 

Two funny stories from the past two months.. One was when Isa, Jake, Brad and I were waiting for our bus from Nairobi to Mombasa at a Shell gas station for 2 hours because we couldn't make it to the actual bus station because our taxi got rear ended on a highway that had two feet of water in it.  Anyways, we are waiting for the bus, not knowing if it was coming or not, and this little short old guy with a super high-pitched voice says he can help us, so we give him our phone to presumably talk to the bus driver in Swahili, and in his high-pitched voice screams over the phone "YES, COME SHELL STATION" and the rest of us just stop and go... wait, so you take the phone and talk worse English than us? when we were trying to get him to speak Swahili.  We couldn't even be mad, the guy was so cute.

The other one was on our safari in Akagera, my mom was so hot and wanted to go swimming in the lake, and she asked if it was possible, and our tour guide responded by saying, "that lake is only for people who are tired of living."  My parents really liked that one.

On a more deeper note, having my parents come here and going out to dinner to enjoy ourselves, I have begun to further recognize how lucky I truly am  - to be able to eat 3 meals a day and not worry if I can afford it, to be in good health, and to even have parents in a place where that is a rarity.  It is so cliché to say that experiencing life in a developing countries “puts things in perspective” – but all clichés are based on truth, and for me the past two months, this truth was never more evident.In closing, a huge shoutout to Issa from the isomero, who is now officially part of the Shooting Touch team in our NGO registration process, Patrick for holding down the fort while I was with my parents, Brada, Matayo, Emmy, and Jean Marie for helping out with match night at the isomero, and being awesome hosts for my parents and I when they visited, Nicklas, Tamon, and Isa in Kigali for being great hosts there and cooking an outrageous 4-course meal big Wessy for showing us around the Mara, and the kids in Rwink for just being awesome and always giving their best!  I hate repeating it, but I really am so lucky here, my "job" is to play with kids, I can hike whenever I want, and I am surrounded by great people.  In the words of Leah Westbrooks, my entire existence here has been a dream #LTD.

Until next time…
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