News: Exercising Freedom

Walking is the most common form of exercise. Pictured here is the “road” from Fran’s house to her workplace, Edmund Rice Sinon School.
So much has been happening here in Engosengiu and life has been so interesting; but once again I can only relate some of the experiences to give you a glimpse of what living here is like.

My teaching friends at school, Pascal, Nestory and Paul are also responsible for the fitness program at school for all the boarders and hostellers, which consists of a run around the village 3 times a week (Tues, Thurs, and Sat afternoons). Here girls and boys cannot exercise together so no one goes running with the girls, so this term I started running with them. But they are bored with just running, so I did a PowerPoint presentation on health and exercise for the girls and the teachers, (welcomed and appreciated by the Pascal, Nestory & Paul) showing them that fitness can be much more varied, interesting and fun. We (boys and girls) now do fitness circuits, and exercises to music as well as running. I also prepared a submission for the headmaster (he’s keen on sport & exercise) requesting the maintenance dept. to make some equipment for us – chin up bars, ladders and weaving poles, etc – which can also be used for the senior sports teams training sessions. They will be finished next week. The guys and I will help to paint them, then use them in our program. I have also found sporting equipment in numerous locations around the school, and put them all together in the sports store and done an inventory. That means we have balls, skipping ropes and other gear to use in our fitness program.

One Thursday we did an exercise class to music then I taught the girls (about 100 of them) the chicken dance as a fun way to finish up. There was a big spectator group watching – the headmaster, teachers, the boys, the cleaners and cooks, the boarding matrons, etc, as they’d never seen something like that before(!) and everyone (the girls participating and the crowd) laughed, wriggled and really enjoyed it. When I go on a run with the girls though the village, people stop and wave or call out – everyone seems to be happy I’m being involved and of course that makes my life here way more interesting, fun and inclusive.

Sport and exercise isn’t seen to be necessary or proper for girls/women in many African cultures. But Pascal and Nestory can see the benefits of me role-modelling for the girls, and so one afternoon I even played on the staff football (soccer) team against the Form 5 students (only for a very short time), much to all the Form 1-6 students and the village spectators amusement! But we are showing the girls it’s ok and fun for females to participate and have a go. My involvement in the exercise and sporting program has actually earned me additional popularity and respect amongst many of the males in the village, which is interesting.

Fran Hewitt, a physical education teacher from Tasmania, is currently on her second volunteer placement with Palms Australia, this time in Tanzania.

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Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing. - Arundhati Roy