Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Long Time Coming

Friday, May 29, 2009

Teaching Baseball to Primary School Teachers on North Efate Efate

When we first got here, Seth (my partner in the vanuatu baseball project) and I decided we were going to teach baseball as a secondary project. We met regularily to determine how to go about methodically introducing baseball to Vanuatu.
We were told by some regional baseball officials that the first step was to start a baseball foundation or association in Vanuatu. That would allow donations and equipment to be sent, and it would also allow Vanuatu teams to enter into international competitions. At this time baseball did not exist in Vanuatu. It was a slight curiosity to some ni-Vanuatu when it came on TV (which suprisingly, it did fairly frequently thanks to Aussie broadcasts which play about 5 games a week plus replays). Besides that, our country director at the time Kevin George had a weekly game that he played with kids and volunteers.
We decided that the best way to get baseball to catch on with a wider number of people would be to work with primary schools. Each of our communities had primary schools and this allowed us to work directly with them, playing ball regularly with kids. This grassroots approach; just getting kids playing; was rewarding and satisfying. It helped us to integrate into our communities, it helped us form strong relationships with the youth in our villages, it helped us address gender issues with youth, talk about leadership, teamwork, sacrifice, respect. And lets be honest we had a ton of fun.
In our work with our two Primary Schools (me at Ekipe Primary School, and Seth with Eles Primary School) We realized that there were a great # of talented athletes, in close proximity with Port Vila, and all the National teams that are based there. Because there was no Sports Organization that brought the primary schools in North Efate together to play, these kids were all overlooked for selection on these teams that get to travel locally and internationally. We also observed the rapid pace of change that the island of Efate is facing and the divisions, rivalries, and animosities that this creates among many of the villages in North Efate. There are about 15 primary schools on "north Efate." Maybe 30 villages, two or three high schools (called colleges because they are boarding schools). North Efate includes 5 populated offshore islands: Lelepa, Mosso, Nguna, Pele, and Emao. The residents of the 30 or so villages in North Efate include "Man North Efate" who traditionally lived here, "Man Atong" who are from Tongariki island in the Shephard islands and came to Efate in the 60's, "Man Tongoa" from Tongoa island also in the Shephards, and small populations from other islands in Vanuatu. Languages spoken are Bislama (everyone), English or French (depending on which schools they happened to attend), and two local languages from the Shephard islands (Nakanamang- traditional North Efate language, and Namakura, language of Tongariki, Buninga, and half of Tongoa). All these differences only further enhance the divisions emerging from a market economy based on travel and sale of produce in Vila, and tourism.
We observed that schools were generally the strongest organizations in each of their communities. Because they draw students from neighboring villages, they often force youth from different communities to interact. Moreover the teachers at these schools come from all over Vanuatu. We decided that if we could get the headmasters and teachers of North Efate to come together to organize a Sports Organization that would represent all of North Efate, it might provide an organizational framework for cooperation, that might well serve these communities in the future. We proposed this idea to some of the headmasters and teachers that we were working with and they enthusiastically agreed. Shortly thereafter the North Efate Primary Schools Sports Association (NEPSSA) was born.
Throughout our service Seth and I have attended their meetings supporting and advising whenever we could offer help. Last year NEPSSA organized their first Inter School Sports Tournament in North Efate. It was a huge success. Throughout the life of the organization it has had a difficult time getting more than 3 or 4 teachers at any meeting. The challenges of communication and transportation were difficult to surmount.
Around Christmas last year Seth and I planned a workshop where we would bring together two teachers from every school in North Efate to learn first aid, and to teach baseball. We hoped this would provide a structured way to bring together all these schools for a positive, necessary training, while simultaneously getting them all together in one place to share stories, knowledge, and ideas. Ideally this would strengthen NEPSSA as well.
After a year and a half of trying to hold this workshop, we finally succeeded.
My current counterpart who runs the Adolescent Health and Development Project through the Ministry of Health, agreed to fund the workshop, and with help from another Peace Corps Volunteer working at the Min. of Education we were able to get the support of the Provincial Education Office. With all the pieces finally in place we held the week long "Sport-Teachers Training" at Onesua Presbyterian College in the first week of May. Just 16 months later than we had initially hoped. Here's some photos from the workshop:

Playing the "Pirate Ship" Icebreaker I learned in Americorps (Thanks Linda Zimmerman)

The teachers learning Adolescent Health and Development from my counterpart Joe Kalo

Exploring the difference between jaw and cheekbone during first aid training

Teachers from Pele and Nguna islands, Seth walking in the background and Simon "Lionshark" Kalmatak from Manua school

The walking wounded, with newly learned sling techniques on display.

The training was a great success, the teachers had a lot of fun, learned a lot, and all asked for more. We used the occassion to distribute the baseball gear that Ruth Bradford Johnson collected from the amazing donors of Racine, Wisconsin.

Sport Teachers Netty and Joel from Eton Center School (Grades 1-8)

Zorah and Tountas from Roau Basic School (Grades 1-6)

We distributed the gear primarily among the Center schools (Grades 1-8) because NEPSSA agreed to add baseball to its 2009 Tournament. But only the 7th and 8th graders would play, since we were worried about the younger kids playing with hard balls. Thus the Basic Schools all got a couple bats and tennis balls. They were encouraged to teach the game to the 5th and 6th graders who would then "graduate" to hard balls when they reached 7th and 8th grade.
Here are some photos of the baseball training. We also gave out "Bislama Baseball Manual's" that Seth wrote, and DVD's of Brewers games and the 2007 playoffs. Since the training we have heard that a number of teachers have run numerous practices with their youth preparing them for the 2009 NEPSSA Games (July 21-23) that will feature baseball as its new competitive team sport.

headmaster Donald before his solo HR

"Around The Horn"

Pussies (Only means Cat here, no dirty conotations) getting savagely beat by the Donkeys

Most of the teachers wanted to learn more of all three of our subjects rating the content high and suggesting the training should be done for all teachers. A number of the schools booked Seth and I to come do advanced Baseball training sessions with their students for our last few weekends here on Efate.
One of the nights NEPSSA organized an impromptu meeting to answer some of the teachers questions and complaints. Many of the teachers were angry at things that happened in last years tournament. Some came to complain and raise their objections to NEPSSA. At the meeting however, a great discussion ensued about the organization, cooler heads prevailed, and everyone realized that all the things they were angry at were a direct result of so few dedicated organizational members. The teachers realized that just a few teachers had been doing all the work of the organization, and that if it was to be successful and address all the concerns that they had, they all needed to take a more active role in leading it.
The next meeting, held 3 weeks later, was the first meeting that had representatives from EVERY NEPSSA school in attendance. I am hopeful that this organization will survive and continue to provide opportunities for youth and an organizational framework for collaboration and cooperation amongst the villages of North Efate.
Seth and I, with 28 teachers of NEPSSA schools. 14 men 14 women.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Idyllic Independence Field

I had a great moment playing ball yesterday.

It was our former country director Kevin George's last game before he leaves for the States. He has been here in Vanuatu for seven years and has been playing baseball with his team of kids in Port Vila for 5 years. There happens to be a lot of volunteers in town right now because a new group just swore in and an old group is leaving. So along with the 15 or so kids we had playing we also had 10-15 Peace Corps volunteers at the game watching or playing.

So I'm standing in Left Field with my back to the descending sun. Barefoot in the grass, shouting encouragement to the kids we work with on a hot Sunday afternoon. The sky has started to turn it's peculiar Pacific Sky Blue/Purple/Pink color with not a cloud in sight. We've got White Americans, a Black American, Black Ni-Vanutu, Asian Americans, a Puerto Rican, and a bunch of "Halfie-Castes" (Which is what they call people like me who are half white and half something else) all playing baseball together on the same field: Independence Park in Port Vila, Vanuatu. I was sitting thinking about how amazing this all was and suddenly I hear "America the Beautiful" drifting on the drafts of humid air faintly into my ears. I really thought I was imagining it at first, it even sounded like an organist at a baseball game. I turned around and saw a congregation coming out of the big church across the street, and for whatever reason that Sunday afternoon, their church keyboard player was playing "America" on the organ setting. And just like in that scene from the Sandlot where they play the 4th of July game by the light of the fireworks,and Ray Charles starts singing "O Beautiful for spacious skies..." and all the kids turn around and stand mesmerized as the ball sails up into the fireworks, just like that, I stood mesmerized gazing off at the setting sun over Port Vila Harbor, and the happy laughing kids doing handstands on second base, and the Peace Corps Volunteers giving up two years of their lives to their country, all playing together on this idyllic, beautiful day.

Thank you God, for moments like this.
Port Vila Harbour on a particularly beautiful night (Thanks for the camera mom, it's doing great things)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Pair of Aces

Elijah and Jackson are two friends in Ekipe village, they're both in 5th grade. These two kids have absolute cannons. Since we don't have baseball gloves or helmets it's a little too dangerous to play with real baseballs, so we make do with tennis balls. In one recent game I had these two face off as the starting pitchers for their teams. I played catcher and umpire because none of the other kids were willing to catch the tennis balls because they were throwing too hard. One pitch nearly broke my finger (it's still sore a week later) and all I could think was "imagine if these kids were throwing real baseballs from real mounds." After three innings I had to switch pitchers because only one person on either team had gotten a single hit, and only a few even made contact. While in a real game this would be great, when you're trying to teach kids how to play, it'd be nice if they actually have a chance to hit the ball.
-written by Javier Alaniz