OUR STORY … or HOW EVERYTHING BEGAN…
After my master degree in 2011, I decided to hang up my boots and hockey stick, and to volunteer for the International Civil Service. I applied for an Italian ONG called CO.P.E and a few months later I started in Tanzania, where I worked for 12 months in a southern village on projects related to education and women empowerment.
Right before the end of this experience I unexpectedly found out that hockey was present also here in Tanzania. One day from the “daladala” (local bus) in Dar es Salaam I spotted people playing hockey on a field next to the road; I jumped off the bus, astonished, to see more…
So I met Mnonda Magani, coach of the men’s team of dar es Salaam, and his boys. I trained with them and played a friendly game.. Then it was time for greetings, as I was headed back to Italy after my year in Tanzania. We kept in touch and they told me more about the situation of hockey in Tanzania, the lack of funds, technical equipment and infrastructures to develop the sport. After a year, January 2013, I went back to Tanzania to work in dar es Salaam, again for CO.P.E. this time I brought some sticks and equipment, collected with the help of teammates from my team at home, Lorenzoni Bra. So we started training kids from a secondary school close to the field, and we got to ten boys after a couple of months!
In the meantime I started training with the men’s team, not knowing that a women’s team had existed in the past. One day Mnonda told me somteing more. “the female team existed once, but hasn’t been active for years now, because there’s no other team to play with, and the Federation has no money to organize activities in school or pay for road games to play neighboring countries’ teams or invite teams to play here. So the girls quit playing, there was no hope for them to keep playing, some got married and started a family, other moved away and so on. The team folded and no one ever tried to do something for women’s hockey here”. The idea rose spontaneously, why not to try? Let’s call them back and let’s find new ones.
That day together with Magan there was alice, a girl from Kenya who played hockey at home and now works in Dar, she was also eager to see a local female team. The three of us shared that dream under the mango tree next to the sideline.
The mango tree, our office/locker room…
The very same day we try to figure out what to do. Magan wrote down the names he remembered, so we soon start calling. He made the first successful calls, because I was unknown to them and at first they didn’t trusted anymore someone telling them that there was the possibility to come back to play, lots of them didn’t believe me and didn’t come at first. Just a couple answered and showed up to the field at 6am. We trained for a couple of weeks while the word of mouth helped us to reach the others again, and slowly the girls joined the practices..
Team was not yet completely rebuilt, we had 6 to 7 players each practice, without any regularity. Then one day I received an unexpected call from Mr. Kaushik Doshi, secretary of Tanzanian Hockey Federation. He explained to me the difficulties they we’re facing, and as I got to Know what we were trying to do he asked me if I wanted to accept the challenge to rebuild the team, coach it, and help them to find money to go to the Africa Cup of Nation, the most important hockey tournament of the continent, a tornament assigning a spot to the following World Cup. It would have been played in Nairobi at end of September. It was May already, I had no team at all, and no idea on how to find the money. I accepted anyway, I said I would have tried. I didn’t sleep that night for the excitement, I was already dreaming about the Olimpics! Haha.. the day after I realized it was a mission impossible… to many issues.. I didn’t even had a whole team to field yet. I had also to plan the practices (I had no serious coaching experience, I always got coached, so been on the other side of the sideline was complicated, but also exiting)… I still had to gain respect and trust from the players, get them to the field and fuel them with the right motivation to come to practice.
They were not expecting a white person coming there to let them play, they were at their houses, with their lives, and one day I popped out of nowhere to bother them, so also for them it was quite an impact, they also had to assimilate what was happening, and understand if they wanted to be in or not. It also took some time for me to understand why I was doing it, what I wanted to do, where did I wanted to go and what to do. Just dealing with these emotions wasn’t easy. On the other side there was the fundraising aspect that couldn’t wait, we needed to spread the voice, to tell the history and our dream, our objective, and the money needed to make it possible. I literally didn’t know what to do, first thought was to tell it to everyone I knew, look for advice, tips, end help.. Anywhere, everywhere.
I wrote a project proposal, with budget, pictures and so on.. I printed a lot of copies, put them in a bag, and started going around on the piki piki (local moto-taxi) up and down Dar es Salaam, knocking every door, every company. A lot of phone calls, appointments, lots of push backs for whatever reason. Like: “our marketing manager is out on a business trip”, but WHAT? I spoke with him right yesterday!.. Anyway, I started understanding.. or: “sorry, we’re not interested this year to sponsor a hockey team, it’s a sport no one knows, it’s something news for us”. Like if football was well known since pre-history…. Someone had to start one day to invest in it and making it popular, right? So why not for hockey? What’s so different?? Why we aways have to be the one at the botom of the ladder?!
There was something about the skin too. You can’t avoid it, if in Africa you’re white you’re somehow supposed to have money. Be careful, it’s not a critic, nor a joke. It’s just the thruth. First thought in a Tanzanian (and not only here in Tanzania) when he see a white person is that he has some money. I don’t even want to examinate how and when this though was born, I’m not into philosophy, antropology or something. From what I experimented on my skin, white, is that if you as a mzungu approach someone to ask for money for a project, first reaction is amazement!
“Wait a minute, there must be something wrong. Usually is the “white men” helping us, now we’re supposed to help them? For what then? Which sport? Mpira wa magongo!? Is it golf? After all they play with small balls and a stick.. it must be cricket! No.. teams are made up of 11 players..like football! And who score the most wins!” this is usually what happens when you try to explain what hockey is all about! To make it short, asking for money for an unknown sport, being white, not having any valuable contact, it’s been quite impossible so far here in Tanzania. Nerve wrecking, frustrating, but also funny. I realized that moving upstairs inside company buildings you’ll find offices everytime bigger than the ones at the floor below, until to reach the last floor and you’ll find yourself sitting on a leather armchair bigger than your bed, talking to someone barely listening to you while checking the phone every two second; then when you’re done, they tell you “we’ll let you know”.. but actually at this point you already know..
In the meantime I created this blog, and started spreading the word through facebook; thanks to many friend, old and new ones, our story began to have a lot of visibility both in Italy and Europe. We also ended up on the prestigious italian daily sport-newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport (read here), on Italian Hockey Federation website, on the International Hockey Federation website (read here). First donations began to pour in, from friends, colleagues, but also from many unknown people.
Then arrived help from two Italian NGO, TULIME and CO.P.E., who decided to promote the project. TULIME is an ONG active also in Tanzania in the fields of agriculture, education and health, environmental sustainability and human rights. CO.P.E is the NGO for which I work and has also many projects here related to education, women empowerment, sustainable agriculture, health. And finally we received also corporate support from local PEPSI Company. Thanks to Mr Arun, an indian man working in marketing there, finally some support also arrived from Tanzania. He’s a former hockey player that decided to support our goal to participate in the Africa Cup of Nations.
Practices where going on in the meantime. Initial mistrust, from both sides, slowly began to disappear, but challenges where always there: different language, different culture, different skin colour, different way to deal with situations. At the beginning it was a daily clash on many issues, until we embraced each other, with acceptance and trust on each other, and the awareness to work toward a common goal. I believe that sport is a vehicle to share many things, it’s not just exercise. Especially for women, often left behind in this society, that unlikely allows them to go beyond the role of wives and mothers.
We started this adventure together, “Run to Kenya” became our motto, because it was a run against time to reassemble a team and raise enough money to be part of the upcoming Africa Cup of Nation to be held in Nairobi in september 2013; not pretending to win tough, because the level of competition was far beyond our limits; just to say “here we are”, just to realize a dream.
And we made it, we arrived in Nairobi, unfortunately right during the days of the terrorist attack at the West Side mall that claimed the lives of many people. The tournament had to be postponed, so we packed our stuff and got back to Dar es Salaam.
It seemed the end of all, the end of our dream; but we stayed together and found the resources to get back to Nairobi, and finally from the 18th to the 24th of November 2013 Tanzania participated for the first time in its history to the Africa Cup of Nation.