BLOG: Seeing the work of our students in Zambia was a joy to behold

26 August 2015

University of Bath students George Lavender and Abi Masters flew out to Africa this week to take part in the Zambia IDEALS programme.

They are the second pair of students – following on from Alice Evans and Jade Traynor – to participate in the scheme this year, which sees student volunteers deliver PE lessons in Zambian schools and villages as well as set up sporting competitions between neighbouring communities.

University of Bath Director of Sport Stephen Baddeley got to see their work at first hand when he attended the first-ever Zambian National Sport Development Conference recently. Here he writes about his African experience…

Around 12 years ago, a group of universities with a strong involvement in sport came together as part of what came to be known as The Wallace Group, named after the then Vice-Chancellor of Loughborough University.

Today, the Wallace Group comprises of seven universities ­– Loughborough, Durham, Northumbria, St Andrews, Stirling, Cardiff Met and the University of Bath – and its major activity is its involvement with a sports development project in Zambia.

For the past decade, the Department of Sports Development and Recreation at Bath, together with the sports departments of the other involved universities, has been sending staff and students out to Zambia to work with local, Non-Government Organisations to deliver a sporting experience for deprived children, primarily in the capital of Lusaka.

This summer, to mark the tenth anniversary of the collaboration, the universities worked with the Zambian government and a local NGO, Sport in Action, to deliver a National Sport Development Conference and I had the pleasure of representing the University at this important event.

I stayed at Southern Sun Ridgeway Hotel in central Lusaka, a very simple but pleasant hotel where we could enjoy meals in an area overlooking a pond in which lurked a number of very small crocodiles!

Stephen Baddeley during his presentation to the Zambian National Sport Development Conference
Stephen Baddeley during his presentation to the Zambian National Sport Development Conference

The conference itself took place at the impressive Olympic Youth Development Centre, built several years ago with considerable funding from the International Olympic Committee. It was extremely well attended by more than 300 delegates from all parts of Zambia.

The majority were PE teachers and their enthusiasm and engagement in the conference was incredibly impressive.  After each speaker had given their presentation, they were bombarded with a very large number of questions which would have gone on almost indefinitely had there not been an attempt to keep to time.

I gave a presentation on our Talent Development Centre, attempting to emphasise how the fundamental aspects of this programme can be delivered with minimal equipment and in a wide variety of settings.

During my presentation, the power failed on two separate occasions, leading me to attempt to shout parts of my spiel to 300 people without the aid of a microphone, while fighting the sound of the circulating fans overhead. The finale was also marred by the video freezing halfway through as the power supply once again failed but it seemed to go down well!

I then had the privilege of spending a night in a rural dwelling some 80 kilometres away from Lusaka. The slow, noisy, and dusty three-and-a-half hour drive on an overcrowded major highway was worth it as I slept under a mosquito net and thus enjoyed a much richer African experience than one gets staying in an air-conditioned 3* hotel.

One of my abiding memories will be of the smiling faces of the many children we met on visits to schools’ sporting activities and an orphanage. Wherever we went we were quickly surrounded by dozens of enthusiastic and smiling children, many of them from deprived backgrounds who delighted in shaking our hands and getting in as many photographs as they could.

University of Bath student Alice Evans during her placement in Zambia this summer
University of Bath student Alice Evans during her placement in Zambia this summer

Also, watching hundreds of young people participate in a sports tournament comprising of volleyball, basketball, football and netball – an event which is a culmination of six weeks of coaching and training by the volunteer students – was an immense privilege.

The quality of the facilities and the environment in which the Zambian children participate leaves an awful lot to be desired.  The football pitches are basically areas of undulating mud; the netball court had serious craters and lines were, in many cases, difficult to see; and the volleyball court lines were marked out by a row of concrete, which did not seem to stop the children diving enthusiastically.

Children played in a variety of footwear – some barefoot, others in socks, some with just one shoe, while the privileged few had both socks and shoes – but the enthusiasm and commitment that these young people put in to their activities, and the celebrations that accompanied both winning and losing, were a joy to behold.

The University of Bath supports four students a year to go out to Zambia for a six-week block (students fund raise to cover their expenses) and I can fully understand how most come back referring to their time in Zambia as being a transformative experience that stays with them their whole lives.

Inspired by the enthusiasm of the children they worked with, and humbled by the comparison between our western affluence and privilege, many students return – in some cases again and again – to continue their involvement with the project.

The seven universities are now working on how they can move the project forward over the coming ten years.  To date the project has been delivered in a partnership with UK Sport, which has provided significant amount of financial support.  This is now in serious jeopardy but the universities are committed to finding a way to continue to support sports development in Zambia.

I look forward to the University of Bath and my Department continuing in this very worthwhile initiative.

Applications are now being taken for the 2016 Zambia IDEALS Project. Click here for more information.


Zambia IDEALS project


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