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Legros Volunteers With Coaches Across Continents, Writes Blog About Experience

Photo of Sophie Legros courtesy of David Silverman Photography.

Harvard sophomore midfielder Sophie Legros of the Crimson women's soccer team has traveled to Kenya on a service trip with the Coaches Across Continents program.  Legros will write blog experiences during her trip, beginning with the blog below about her arrival in Kisumu, Kenya.

Blog post No. 1 by Sophie Legros.

Although I arrived in Nairobi, Kenya three days ago, my trip to Africa actually started long before the day I took the British Airways flight from London to Jomo Kenyatta airport. Although one cannot survive Africa without understanding the meaning of the word “adaptability,” preparation is key to having a safe and enjoyable stay in Africa. I took a course called Africa and Africans: The Making of a Continent in the Modern World (by C. Elkins) that gave me a grasp on how colonialism changed “traditional” Africa, what impact colonial policies still have on African countries and what challenges the continent faces today. I learned more about the history of the Kenyan and Ugandan people and the struggles they have been through such as the Kikuyu being chased from their land and the repression of the Mau Mau or the Civil War and political unrest in Uganda that lasted many years after independence, partly due to the divisions existing between the Northern and Southern regions. I also educated myself on the important issues Coaches across Continents deals with – like HIV/aids or female empowerment- and the messages the organization wants to convey. Reading China Keteisti’s Child Soldier: Fighting for my Life gave me some insight on what the former child soldiers in Pader District, Uganda have been trough. Learning about how empowering women can help developing communities (Half the Sky, by N. Kristof and S. Wuduun), made me understand the importance of Coaches across Continents’ Female Empowerment initiative. The idea, called “The Girl Effect,” is to create a virtuous circle where a girl or a woman gets an opportunity to participate in the society, allowing her to have an education, get married later, reinvest in her family, and create healthier and better communities. Allowing girls to play with boys and women to coach children is a way of empowering them, giving them responsibilities and changing mentalities.

Besides this, the practical part of the preparation consisted of vaccinations, buying half my suitcase worth of medicine, finding the cheapest flight (which most of the time involves three connections and a full day of travel), and getting information about how to get from the airport to the town where we will be working, how to acquire a visa etc. – something that is much more complicated than it seems when dealing with Africa.

So, after avoiding the ash cloud from the Iceland volcano and after having to change my flight from Brussels to London that was canceled because of British Airways’ strike I finally made it to Nairobi. It was nighttime and already dark outside but I already recognized the frenzy that characterizes the drivers in Kenya. I was told that you must be aggressive when driving in Kenya, otherwise you would never arrive at your destination. Anna, the coach who picked me up at the airport, and I headed back to the airport early in the morning to catch our forty-five minute flight to Kisumu. The pilot warned us that the landing would be rough due to the conditions of the Kisumu’s airport runway. The airport was made up of a small building and two uneven cement lanes. Upon our arrival, we had to wait for a few minutes before crossing the runway in order to let another plane take off. We then waited in the breathless heat for workers to bring our suitcases on a cart and lay them down on the ground for us to pick up. My belongings came after the cart’s second trip to the plane and back. I am glad I am not the Dutch woman whose suitcase did not make the journey. A group of school children in uniform, who may have been in recess, or on a field trip, were intently watching the entire process. When we were waiting for the head of Kisumu Youth Football Association to pick us up, they went back to school while another group of older school children replaced them. We enjoyed a few minutes of rest at the Sooper Guesthouse before heading over to the first session with the local coaches.

Coming soon: our first days in Kisumu!