Melanie Baskind is pictured with members of the girls’ football team. From left to right, Agnes, Anna, Flora and Helena.
Why We Play
On only my second weekend as a volunteer at Orkeeswa, I was fortunate enough to go with almost forty of our students and six other teachers to ISM’s Sports Weekend in Moshi. I watched our teams compete against international schools in basketball, football (soccer), volleyball and rugby, and I watched as these kids who rarely leave the village piled mysterious foods like yogurt and parmesan cheese on their plates at the cafeteria buffet. Watching not just how they competed, but how they responded to pressure, dealt with winning and losing, battled through injuries and fatigue, and supported one another throughout it all – I got a good sense of the type of student I would meet in the classroom on Monday morning. Beyond that, I immediately saw the value of the athletics program at Orkeeswa.
As we drove home from our weekend in Moshi, I decided after spending less than a week at Orkeeswa that I would double the amount of time that I had planned to stay.
Before arriving at Orkeeswa, I spent time in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Kenya, Rwanda and all around Tanzania, traveling and volunteering for a few different organizations. As a former Division I soccer player, I played pickup football pretty much everywhere I went. Getting girls to play football in communities where they have never been given the opportunity to do so, and serving as a role model for these girls was an unbelievable experience. The joy of seeing girls participate in sports for the first time, giving them permission to have fun when their lives so often revolve around school and work – tilling the fields, fetching water or firewood and selling vegetables – is something that never gets old.
Unlike the majority of girls in rural parts of Africa, the girls at Orkeeswa do not just play sports every once in a while, they are athletes in every sense of the word. They have weekly practices and have to be in good shape. They have to work to make the cut for the team that travels to games and tournaments. They run plays and compete for trophies. They deal with injuries, lopsided playing time and bad (bad!) referees. Teamwork and communication are crucial to their success. They travel to new places and form strong relationships with one another.
The life skills that can be taught through sport, and many of the things that I really valued about being an athlete, are not easy to produce in a place like Monduli, TZ, where resources are few and time is precious. They cannot be learned from a pickup game here, or a week of training there. It takes time and dedicated commitment from numerous people for sports to be something from which you learn and not just something you do. The fact that girls have equal access to these opportunities at Orkeeswa is really special, and carries over into mutual support and respect from their male classmates (or is it admiration mixed with a little bit of jealousy? Those girls bring home a lot of trophies!!).
In Orkeeswa’s mission to develop well-rounded students, students that will be well prepared as leaders, athletics plays a huge role. Watching and coaching sports is one of my favorite things to do with the students. Having been involved in sports my entire life, there was never a question I would enjoy being involved in athletics in Africa and at Orkeeswa, but the extent of its impact on me has caught me by surprise. In Monduli, we are far from pristine fields, pressed uniforms and stadium seating but it is obvious that the opportunity to play and to train, to be a part of a team, that experience has an incredible impact on the growth and confidence of girls anywhere.
In the mere five months that I’ve been an Orkeeswa Lion, I have a renewed appreciation for the importance of athletics and value my time on the field as much as I value my time in the classroom.
Melanie Baskind is a 2012 graduate of Harvard University with a BA in Neuro Biology and a secondary in Global Health and Health Policy. Melanie was a four year letter winner in soccer and lacrosse and captained both teams in her senior year. As the recipient of the Trustman Fellowship for year long post-graduate purposeful travel, Melanie was working with Coaches Across Continents which is a football (soccer) program for social development before coming to Orkeeswa. In addition to coaching soccer, Melanie serves as the Chemistry teacher at Orkeeswa Secondary School. She hails from Framingham, MA.