Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Buzzwords - Sustainability

Since entering the field of sport for development I have had to confront a number of buzz words. It was the same when I was working as a teacher (critical thinking, higher order thinking, age-appropriate, and multicultural education for example. I have been racking my brain to remember some more, but I think they are leaking out). I think most professions, or fields of work, contain buzz words. They obviously represent concepts which are valued as important, but I think there is also the tendency to hide behind these words. I also feel that they create a form of intellectual laziness. I recently read an article by William Easterly

(He is an economist at NYU. He wrote a book called White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, which has influenced my thinking about international development a great deal). The article references a talk he gave at the London School of Economics about skepticism as a creative force. I don't know if I would classify myself as a skeptic, but I agree with him in the utility of skepticism.

In the sport for development field I always hear or read about life skills, empowerment, self-esteem, and sustainability. I already had a post about life skills on my blog and I recently started writing for the Terry blog at UBC and posted a similar post there.

For this post I am interested in the idea of sustainability in sport for development. It is one of these words that appear on websites and in project proposals, but I am not sure how well thought out it is. Sustainability in international development and sport for development basically refers to the idea that benefits that occur through an intervention should be maintained after the intervention is over.

The problem I have with sustainability is that sports in themselves do not seem sustainable unless the communities, or individuals, believe that there is a positive benefit and are willing to invest without expecting much of a direct return on their investment. Sports programmes require funding for facilities, equipment, and various other needs. In general, youth sports in isolation are not able to generate income. Programmes in Canada receive funding from a variety of sources including: user fees, local sponsorships, government grants, and community fundraising. In Lesotho what is the possibility of a sports programme receiving funding from any of these sources? User fees, local sponsorships, and community fundraising are quite difficult because of the level of poverty. Additionally the idea of government funding for youth sports is also problematic when governments have a hard enough time funding basic health and educational systems.

Many sport-for-development organizations will claim that by partnering with local government organizations and NGOs, and by training members of these organizations that they are ensuring that there work is sustainable. For example:

Right To Play’s approach to programming goes beyond individual capacity-building to include investments in partnerships. By collaborating with, and training dedicated community leaders such as teachers, early childhood educators, and staff from other local implementing NGOs or Community-Based Organizations (CBOs), Right To Play helps to ensure the appropriate localization of programs, the establishment of strong and lasting mentoring relationships, and the long-term sustainability of our work

The idea is that partnering with local organizations and training local people with the skills will ensure the sustainability of the programme. This does create the possibility that skills taught will be sustained and transferred in the future, but it does so with the assumption of continued economic support. This form of sustainability seems to ignore the fact that programmes have to receive funding from somewhere. Until governments, communities, local businesses, or individuals are in a position to prioritize youth sports there is no hope of sustainability.

An additional problem that arises is the possibility that the presence of sport for development organizations actually hurt the long term sustainability of sport. For example, LEFA (the Lesotho National Football Association) receives funding from the government and from FIFA. A portion of this money is supposed to go towards youth development. In Mafeteng there are no youth leagues, very few formal youth teams, and overall very little youth development. Does my presence in Mafeteng motivate the government to provide funds, or does my presence give the government and LEFA an excuse to continue underfunding youth development? If Right to Play is providing the funds and training for physical education teachers in Zambia then what reason does the government have to provide the same service? If an NGO steps in to fill a gap left by government is that NGO doing a good thing, or simply bailing out the government?

May 25, 2010

Monday, May 17, 2010


A couple of weeks ago the Minister of Gender Youth Sports and Recreation announced the launch of the National Volunteer Youth Corps. It will be funded by the United Nations Development Programme and is set up almost like internships for students to gain skills. When it was introduced in parliament it came under some criticism because opposition parties felt like they were not informed and that selection for the Youth Corps could be along party lines. At first I thought it was just typical political jostling - especially because there was a huge banner hung in the middle of Maseru for weeks prior to the announcement. I don't even live in Maseru and I new about this launch. But it turns out youth groups like this in Africa have a tendency of turning into militias – including a similar youth group in Lesotho in the early 90s that evolved into an intimidation force for the Basotho National Party.

This by itself is an interesting topic, but it isn’t really the reason why it got me to write this post. The article got me thinking about the idea of volunteerism and wondering why people volunteer.

Since high school I have spent time volunteering, mostly as a youth soccer coach. I am not exactly sure why. I do enjoy soccer, so becoming a coach seemed natural. I have always known that it is also good for the resume, but I would not say that this was my main motivation. As well, I enjoy being thought of as someone who volunteers. Knowing that other people know that I volunteer makes me feel good about myself. Maybe it is also because I have a hard time saying no to people.

For my current position I am considered a volunteer I suppose. The current title is development worker, but Skillshare is thinking of changing it to international volunteer. I would have a hard time convincing myself that I am a volunteer though since my ‘stipend’ is pretty close to ten times what the average person living in Lesotho earns.

I am sure that other people volunteer because of similar reasons to what I described. I imagine family also plays a large role. Once you have children and those children become engaged in community activities then some parents will get pulled in. Financial security also plays a role. In North America and Europe there is a correlation between civic service and social class.

Lately I have been giving a lot of thought to why people in Lesotho would choose to volunteer. It seems like volunteering is almost a mandatory undertaking. Many of the organizations working here in Mafeteng including: World Vision, Red Cross, the police, government ministries, community based organization, and other NGOs all employ volunteers. These volunteers are almost always unemployed youth who have just recently finished school – either high school or post secondary studies. The programmes I am working with all involve volunteers – which makes things difficult because white people bring jobs and all I am bringing is a training programme for volunteer youth soccer coaches. I think that at least once a week I have been approached by people looking for employment. I explain to them that my project only involves volunteer soccer coaches. They usually have a hard time believing this and will go on to try and convince me that I can find a position for them in my project. On a side note, I have found that the other thing that white people bring to Lesotho is educational scholarships. I think this is also related to the fact that I am Canadian and CIDA

(the Canadian International Development Agency) has provided funding in the past. So, when I introduce myself as Canadian I am often asked if I can sponsor someone’s education. I have also met a number of people who have studied at Canadian universities or have had siblings study in Canada. The picture I have posted here is of a local primary school. It has CIDA on its sign board, but I haven't asked it the school received funding from CIDA.

Anyways, I’m getting off point.

Why do people in Lesotho choose to volunteer? Culturally the idea of helping others is present. Pre-colonial southern African societies relied on collectivism and mutual aid to meet basic needs. Solidarity and reciprocity are strong cultural beliefs. Colonization may have contributed to the erosion of these beliefs through putting pressure on people to provide (how's that for alliteration?) services to the colonial powers as opposed to their communities. The importance of volunteering in a context that involves such a high prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS is also relevant. One of the things I gained from organizing the Coaching for Hope workshop was learning how much people genuinely want to help their communities deal with the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

However, I feel that for the most part volunteering is done to gain skills and contacts in the hopes of obtaining future employment. When 50% of the population is unemployed and so many people are living in extreme poverty, gaining employment has to be a motivating factor. I believe this is the government’s main reason for establishing the National Youth Volunteer Corps. It seems that most graduating students are forced into volunteer positions, so maybe the government is just trying to formalize this process. Or maybe they are establishing militias in the build up to elections in 2012 – I think they are in 2012.

The issue of what motivates the volunteers that I am working with is fairly important for future recruitment and retention, but I have begun to question the retention of volunteers in my situation. I was reading through an evaluation report of one of the organizations I work with and a problem that they identified was losing volunteers to employment with other NGOs. I would not necessarily view this as a problem. I don’t know how you could expect someone to remain a volunteer when they are unemployed and need money to support themselves and possibly their families.

Because of the perception of white people brining jobs I also wonder how many people have signed up for my programme in the hopes that they will be employed by the project in the future. Some Coaching for Hope employees in South Africa, Mali, and Burkina Faso are former volunteer coaches. I don’t know if the volunteers here in Lesotho know this, but I often wonder if it motivates them.

In a way I am glad that I am not in a position to employ anyone. With so many people unemployed, job searches and employment opportunities take on a greater significance. LENEPWHA just recently received applications and interviewed candidates for a position relating to the project I am working on. I had very little input on who was hired. There was a local project advisory committee that held the interviews and chose the candidates. Some of the volunteers for my soccer programme were applying for this position. Because I was working with LENEPWHA, I believe that they thought that I would be able to help them get the position. I am not sure of their qualifications, but they were not chosen for the final interviews. I think they were quite angry with me and resented the fact that I could not get them the job or even an interview. I could only imagine what it would be like if I actually was responsible for hiring someone.

May 17, 2010

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lesotho successful in U-17 and U-20 Qualifying


The Under-17 and Under-20 Lesotho national football teams have made it through the most recent stage of qualification for their African youth championships and will move on to play Cameroon and South Africa respectively. These results have come just after LEFA (Lesotho National Football Association) announced it would not enter the senior team into qualification for the 2012 African Cup of Nations. They made the decision because of financial reasons and also because they wanted to focus on youth development. Obviously, LEFA is using these results to justify and celebrate their decision.

BBC has a radio interview here

The other side of the story is that a lot of people in Lesotho are laughing because they believe that the U-17 and U-20 teams are age cheating, which would definitely not be contributing to football youth development in Lesotho. Age cheating is not something I gave a lot of thought to before arriving here. When I was younger I would sometimes watch the Little League World Series and there would sometimes be accusations that players in that tournament were above the age limits, but it was something I never really encountered growing up. However, from what I have read, and from talking with football people in Lesotho and South Africa, it seems that in Southern Africa, age cheating is quite common place - I would also recommend checking out this article which is quite good regarding ‘football age’ in Africa. The authors of both articles link the problem of age cheating back to poverty and believe that players believe that if they can make their way onto development teams then they will stand a better chance of playing professionally. So, if an 18 year old can find his way onto a professional team’s U-15 development team then he will have a better chance of getting a contract with that professional team.

Today was a holiday in Lesotho, Ascension Day, and a U-15 tournament was held involving eight teams. I wasn’t involved in organizing, but was invited to watch. It is about the fourth local youth tournament I have been able to attend. At every tournament there have been issues with teams using over aged players. I am not sure what the reasons are here in Lesotho because there are no professional teams. I think it might be a combination of the rules not being explained adequately, a lack of underage players, and just over competitiveness.

Maybe it also comes down to cultural perceptions of age. I grew up playing youth sports where every chronological age was separated from Under-5 up to Under-19. Age categorization seems to be a little more flexible here. I think age is perceived less as a fixed number and more as a general time period based on your situation in life. I think this is also evidenced by Sesotho terms associated to people. Men are usually addressed as Ntate and boys are usually addressed as Abute. When I first arrived, I received a couple of introductory Sesotho lessons. During the first lesson the teacher asked if I was an Ntate or an Abute. I said I did not know, but since I am 29 I guess I am an Ntate. The teacher said eh-eh (No). She asked if I was married. I said yes. She then said that I was an Ntate.

During this recent tournament I was talking with some other spectators and they were trying to justify age cheating by saying that everyone does it. They even believed that European and North American athletes are also age cheating to the same extent. I tried to explain that it might be very difficult for Wayne Rooney or Lebron James to falsify their ages, but my arguments didn’t seem to sway them.

May 13, 2010

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Coaching for Hope Workshop

I just wanted to post this to give people an idea of what I am doing and will be doing in Lesotho. I alluded to it in my Sport for Development and Peace post, but didn’t provide much detail.

Last week I hosted my first Coaching for Hope workshop. It was one of the more intense working experiences I have gone through. Imagine being placed in a completely new country, a new culture –both social and professional – and having a couple of months to plan a workshop. The workshop runs from 8:30am to 5:00pm for 7 days. It includes food and accommodation for 40 local participants - you also have to recruit these participants - and it also involves hosting four coaches/facilitators from South Africa and the UK. When I write it out it actually doesn't seem that bad, but trust me, it was hectic.

The workshops focus on preparing local coaches to implement soccer sessions as well as HIV/AIDS cross over sessions. A cross over session involves incorporating information on HIV/AIDS and life skills into a soccer session. For example, a cross over session might include a passing game which involves risk and decision making. This activity could then lead into a discussion on high risk and low risk activities and making good decisions.

Overall I believe that the workshop was a success. Unfortunately we lost one of our UK coaches to the Icelandic volcano – not lost as in deceased or sacrificed, but her flights were cancelled.

In my Sport for Development and Peace post I talked quite a bit about my reservations regarding programmes like the one I am working on, but I think going through an actual workshop and seeing the enthusiasm and excitement of the local coaches has provided me with some optimism moving forward. I am optimistic, but still slightly skeptical. It will be interesting to see how it all develops.

If you are interested in Coaching for Hope I would recommend checking out the link I have on the left of my blog. As well as learning about the programme you will get to see pictures of David Beckham when he visited Coaching for Hope in Cape Town. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your point of view, he manages to keep his shirt on - I think.

May 4, 2010