I had been dropped outside the school on the muddy main road, before darting between the land movers and approaching the school gates. I could hear children singing as I scrambled towards the doors trying my best to avoid the construction debris. The children’s faces lit up when they saw me peer around the door, but they were still singing the national anthem as they do every morning, so I just smiled and waved discretely trying not to take the focus off their morning routine.
The children looked radiant. Their petite figures were all concealed in immaculate, different brightly coloured shiny soccer jerseys with matching shorts and knee high socks tipped with white stripes. It was the St Yared Sports Day and I’d come to school to teach the children a thing or two about Australian Rules Football. With any luck I’d open their little eyes through letting them share in a 150 year old Australian passion.
St Yared School is opposite the French embassy in Addis Ababa. There are two campuses in the city and the second isn’t too far from the first. A total of approximately 140 children from devastatingly poor families attend the school from the ages of 5-12. The classrooms are wonderful explosions of colour. With pictures of places from around the world disguising the run-down walls, the children are encouraged to dream and let their imagination run wild. Coloured paper cutouts hung from the ceilings and decorated filing cabinets lined the room which was organized & in an utterly pristine condition. The children rake the dirt quadrangle every morning so any stray rocks and sticks are collected to prevent injuries during playtime. It was obvious that the children & teachers treasured these classrooms and school grounds, caring for them with total dedication and together shared in making them the perfect home away from home.
St Yared’s School sits on the main road, a road that is currently under construction and will be for the next 4 years. Despite the deafening noise of working machinery beyond the fences, their water pipes have been cut off. (Yes, CUT OFF!) Which means of course, a ‘water collection’ excursion/tag team every morning & lunchtime by all of the campus staff. Their veggie patch was dying and the plants and trees looked bare and dry. The children didn’t mind however. They were just happy they had somewhere comfortable and safe to go during the day and that their parents weren’t making them partake in the family work. I had previously asked Yard, the principle, if he minded that I take the workshop in the morning so we could be done before the heat from the Ethiopian sun became too much for the children to bear.
Once the children had finished their national anthem and role calls, they followed a teacher in single file towards the quadrangle. The children lined up under the shade and sat down impatiently waiting for me to begin, better yet, to explain the awkwardly shaped ball I was holding under my arm. Eventually, the children quietened down and I proceeded to introduce myself and thank them for inviting me into their beautiful school. I had my foot resting on a soccer ball as well as holding the footy under my arm. I asked them what was under my foot motioning towards the soccer ball.
“A football” they screamed in unison without hesitation.
“Correct! And what’s this?” I asked, holding the footy above my head.
They looked at each other puzzled, heads tilting and the odd scalp scratch in the crowd. Until one child screamed out, “Rugby!”
“No – but close. This is also a football. An Australian football.”
The kids’ faces were blank. I paused shortly and explained the techniques of handballing and kicking. I described the aim of the game, the placing of the goals & scoring, and referred to soccer in order to give them a reference point by which they could better understand the game.
Unfortunately, I had 140 kids with only 1 football. So I decided it would be best to start with the tennis balls that I bought the day before in order to grasp their level of hand-eye-coordination and hopefully grab their attention initially. I told half the children to come forward and the other half to stay seated and watch from the bench; eventually they would swap. The teachers helped me arrange the children into groups of four. I gave each group a tennis ball and told them to throw to each other without dropping the ball. First underarm and then overarm; with their right hand and then their left. I then requested they spread out, so that the groups were intersecting and they had to be on the look out for the other group members.
I then asked them not to move their feet and do their very best to throw directly to their group member. Finally, I requested that they forget about their group members and throw to anyone they saw. The condition was that they had to make eye contact with their peer and then scream their name indicating the intention of throwing them the ball. To my astonishment, they were extremely good for their age. They completed all the tasks with flying colours. But more importantly, with gleaming smiles on their faces.
After the groups swapped their positions, the activities were repeated. It was then time for the second introduction of the AFL footy. The teachers once again helped arrange the children into a square facing the centre. I explained that they had to handball or kick to the person in front of each line in a pattern outlined in the diagram bellow.
A. Handball to B
B. Kick to D
D. Handball to C
C. Kick to AT
The children picked up the drill very quickly and it wasn’t long until they became considerably faster. As they practised, I gave them advice and demonstrated different techniques. I taught them how to mark the ball onto their chests instead of holding their arms out. They helped each other to hold the ball correctly so that the stitching always faces up. The children had a totally unfamiliar ball and enjoyed the new sport that had been introduced to them.
At the end of the lesson I congratulated the children on their excellent efforts and told them that they could keep the ball if they promised to practise and show me in coming weeks, how their skills had improved. The children and teachers were very thankful and assured me that the footy would most definitely come out at playtime.
If you would like more information on the school you may visit their website at http://www.schoolofstyared.com/. You can sponsor a child for 12 months for $1100 which includes 2 meals a day, a backpack, text books, pens, school fees, minibus pick-up and drop-off and much more. St Yared School is renowned as the best school in the district, surpassing even the private schools with its standards. Whilst government schools often have over 80 students in each classroom, St Yared School maintains a maximum of 22 student per class. Yared passionately believes in the quality of education and it’s enduring effect on the lives of its students. Most noteworthy is the observation that every child at the school wants desperately to be there every single day and hate leaving on Friday afternoons.