I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer teacher at Noordgrens Seceondary School in Rundu, Namibia. Teaching in Namibia is tough with overcrowding, lack of adequate desks and other resources, as well as discipline issues, so it is nice to get to know students outside of the classroom. I got involved with the volleyball team here at school by accident. The last time I played volleyball was high school gym class.
My school has 1100 learners and two sports teams – volleyball and netball. The netball team is not very active, but our volleyball team practices daily.
The volleyball team’s court was right next to my classroom last year, and so after school I would be marking tests and essays and the learners would come in to greet me. This happened just about every day, so I got to know them. I started watching them practice in between marking.
I thought the only sport played in Africa was soccer. Turns out, at least in Namibia, netball and volleyball are also popular. The learners tend to be very athletic and good at running, but there aren’t any organized school teams that I know of that compete in track and field.
Our school’s team has become a bit of a dynasty. Henk Bronner, a colleague of mine, has been coaching volleyball here for over a decade. He’s a sports fanatatic, and for many of these learners, it’s the biggest thing that keeps them from getting in trouble. Our school is at a great advantage in volleyball because we have such a dedicated coach.
Last June the team asked me if I’d travel with them to a tournament to be a chaperone and the coach for the Under 13 girls team for the weekend. Even though I know nothing about volleyball, I was flattered and said yes. Turns out sayings like “control the ball” and “work as a team” and “keep calm” are appropriate for many sports. 🙂
They asked me again last month to chaperone a tournament, and I said yes. Those two weekends standout for my Peace Corps Service as times when I got to know some learners on a more personal level and could share more than just grammar lessons.
Back in July the tournament we attended was the Namibian Nationals. Learners from each region/state were chosen after a regional tournament to determine who were the best players. Our school made up most of the Kavango Team.
Many of my learners said this was the trip of a lifetime for them. They were going to travel eight hours away to see the capital of their country, Windhoek. Most had never been before.
Here are some things that really stuck out for me those weekends, when comparing these learners sports experience to my own:
No uniforms are provided for the learners. Oh, how we used to complain about our uniforms at when I was in high school. “They’re so old!” Hey, at least we had them. : ) My learners had to fundraise to buy tshirts as their uniforms, so they could match on top at least.
I have fond memories of sports camps. At home there is so much opportunity to learn from others at these camps in the summertime.
We had nice equipment. We played games weekly against other schools. We had transport arranged to these games. While my volleyball players practice every day, they only play games against other schools 1-4 times a year.
For the most recent trip I went on, the kids had to pay to ride the bus to get to the tournament. Housing was accommodated but everyone had to bring their own bedding. We stayed at the local college’s dorm. We crammed 18 girls into the tiny common room. The floor was mattress-to-mattress!
The learners also had to bring enough money to pay for their own food. Most could only afford to pay to ride the bus, and relied on others to share food to get them through the weekend. “In Africa, we share” is a quote I hear repeated often in Namibia. While the extreme generosity is one of the things I love most about Namibia, as an American, it can also be one of the toughest things to adjust to.
Some good quotes and moments from the weekend:
“Miss! There’s so many lights! I think there’s a lot of electricity here.”
Wisdom from their coach and geography teacher Mr. Bronner after losing a game: “The second world war was much worse than this. People died.”
Learner: “Miss, it’s so relaxing.”
Me: “What is?”
Learner: “Walking down the stairs. It’s so calming, don’t you think?’
There are only a few tall buildings in Rundu, so most don’t climb stairs like we do back home. All homes are one level. Many learners that weekend kept getting lost in the building we were sleeping in. They couldn’t find their way around this 3 story building in Windhoek.
They asked me a lot during the weekend to repeat words in their home language because they wanted to hear it an American accent. As soon as I did it they would bowl over in laughter. It’s rare to hear an American say words so familiar to you, and often pronouncing them incorrectly.
At one point I surprised them and started dancing on the bus when one of my favorite songs started playing. I really got into it. Unfortunately for me some of my moves were caught on video. The learners still talk about that dance.
I’ve often marveled at how Namibians are always happy for one another, and not jealous. One of the learners who didn’t make it to play in the final round of the last game said “It’s ok Miss, I’m so proud of my friends who made it.”
Often when you are with learners at times like this you learn a lot about them, that you wouldn’t otherwise in the classroom. A learner whom I’m close to told me about her dad passing away from malaria a few years ago, and she wasn’t able to go to the funeral because her dad’s new wife didn’t like her or her sister. Volleyball for this learner is her life, and unfortunately her dad never got to see her play.
Spending time with this team reminded me of the power of high school sports. Just like at home, sports have a way of really making a difference for some learners. It teaches them about hard work, teamwork, and self discipline. I’m grateful for the sports I had growing up. I made great friends through sports, and it gave me a great foundation to stay active and healthy that I still draw on today.
If you didn’t like volleyball before, you’d love it after watching my team play. Both teams, the boys and girls, absolutely love the sport. And they are so good at it! They play with so much heart. They’re inspiring to watch. I never get bored watching them.
I’m proud of these kids and I love them. They work hard, on and off the court.
Sometimes our service asks us to go where we feel uncomfortable, where we don’t feel our talents lie. But we are usually rewarded for pushing ourselves to do so. I had no intention of helping out with sports but sometimes the things that develop organically are the things that end up feeling most natural (even if they are new to us, like coaching volleyball). I’ll always think of this great team when I see or hear anything about volleyball. ❤