Friday, April 22, 2011

THE OL' BRACES CAME IN HANDY AFTER ALL...

THE OL' BRACES CAME IN HANDY AFTER ALL...

On numerous occasions my mom has asked if I still wanted to keep those giant braces from 2007 when I broke my legs. I kept saying yes. My parents have been storing them in a bin in their spare bedroom for 3 years and for some reason I just couldn't let them go. I recently found out why...

About a month ago, my friend Glenn took a spill on the ice and ended up doing some major damage to his legs. He essentially slipped, his legs went in the wrong direction and he tore both of his quads right off. Nasty! He has been in a care centre rehabilitating and he put something up on his facebook about having to pay $700 for leg braces. Say what?! I'd been there before and it doesn't feel nice to write that cheque!

I immediately went over to my parents, fished out those bulky contraptions that caused me so much grief (and growth) and took them over to Glenn to see if they would fit.

Guess what? After a few minor adjustments, they did!!! Hip Hip Hooray! It makes me so happy to know that they are going to help someone else on their road to recovery. Perhaps Glenn will be able to pay them forward as well…wouldn't that be awesome!

Congratulations on your progress to this point Glenn and keep having those small victories every day!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

CROSSFIT

CROSSFIT

I went to my very first Crossfit class last night. I've been thinking about it for a long time, but haven't had the courage to go. It's always hard to push yourself into new experiences because the unknown is scary. I faced a lot of resistance while heading out the door - rapid fire excuses were coming up inside of my mind. I knew that this was just my sabotuer trying to play games with me and so I pushed back. I sent a note to my friend who owns Crossfit Ramsay in Calgary and committed to the 730pm class. No backing out. I cornered myself!

What led me to make this move was an experience I had in the afternoon while at the fitness gym in my building. I was standing there, all alone staring at myself in the mirror. I didn't want to be there, but I was there because it felt like what I should be doing. I have learned over the past 2 years since retiring from sport that a good afternoon work out is the best way to re-enegize and focus. I couldn't do it though. I couldn't push myself. I kept asking, "Why am I here?". I was bored. I was alone. I was in my head.

Exercise and working out should be fun. It should be something you look forward to. It should be a challenge and an escape. It should be social and you should continually feel like you are rewarding yourself - even thought it burns. In fact, you should crave the burn. It shouldn't make you feel trapped or punished. It shouldn't make you feel isolated. It shouldn't be a chore.

Yesterday, as I stared at myself in the mirror and felt numb, I realized that running on the treadmill and lifting weights in my home gym has become something I loathe. It's not fun anymore. It bores the hell out of me and that is why I stare at myself in the mirror asking "Why". That is not the way I want to live my life. That is not who I want to become.

Then and there, I made a decision to do something about it.

And that's the way life goes. You always have 2 options. You can sit in self pity, continually question "why?" and never make the change or you can buckle down and push yourself to try something new. New is always scary, but new is sometimes exactly what you need.

I had a kick ass workout at Crossfit. The WOD (workout of the day) was 10 rounds of 5 pull ups, 10 push ups and 15 squats in the fastest time possible. It sounded so easy, but it sure wasn't. I breezed through the first 5 rounds, but then found my arms and legs quickly becoming jello after that. I had to dig deep. I had to be focused. I had to push out that little voice inside of my head that was telling me to stop. It was super intense. It was the first time in a long time that I felt like an athlete. My potential was staring at me in the face and it was up to me to reach it.

The thing I liked the most was being around other people who were pushing themselves. You don't get that at the home gym. It was really motivating to look around and know that every person there was experiencing discomfort and pain, but they were asking more of themselves. To me, this is the best way to grow. I really like the variety and challenge that Crossfit offers as well. Every day is different. I enjoy that the workouts are short and full out. I trained 6 hours a day for too many years. I like getting in, getting the work done and leaving knowing that I gave it my all. And finally, I like the fact that Crossfit has some gymnastic conditioning elements to it. A little bit of comfort is always nice;)

I think I've found my new way of elevating to the next level and I'm excited about the possibilities!

Kyle

ps- I can hardly lift my arms above my head today. That's when you know you've reached your max!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Day 5 - CHICKEN SOUP FACTORY AND STEPHEN TOLBERT

DAY 5 - CHICKEN SOUP FACTORY AND STEPHEN TOLBERT

Day 5 -

Liberia has some crazy names for it's communities and towns, my favourite being Chocolate City. How sweet would it be to live in a place called Chocolate City? Seriously! Today, our final day in Liberia, we visited a community called Chicken Soup Factory. Not as awesome as Chocolate City, but still pretty dang cool.

I had a rough night with what the Liberians like to call "Running Stomach". I actually think I had a parasite or heat stroke because I woke up with an intense and uncontrollable bout of the shivers at about midnight. I was starting to panic when my stomach was cramping every 40 minutes - I kept thinking, "what if I am not well in the morning and we have to head out to the field?" Oh no!!

I couldn't eat breakfast. The site of food made me feel noxious and I didn't want to fuel the fire if you know what I'm sayin'. I decided to go up to my room to get a few extra minutes of rest and see if I could mentally prepare for a day of being uncomfortable. I was mad at myself for even being the slight bit concerned and negative about the situation because people here have to live with far worse conditions every single day, but for those of you who have had an upset stomach in a third world country, I'm sure you can understand my concern.

Anyway, enough about that, let's get on with the day!

We traveled about 45 minutes to Chicken Soup Factory and went directly to a play session. I decided to observe the activities rather than participate and it was brilliant to be on the outside looking in. This is what I saw: children randomly coming out of the corners of the field to join in, games organically unfolding, coaches engaging and wonderful flashes of hope that this community is well on it's way to change.

After finishing things off in Chicken Soup Factory and saying our goodbyes, we headed to our last site of the trip - Stephen Tolbert. (I was starting to feel a bit more alive and had made it through the day thus far unscathed…)

The sun was hot on our drive over to Stephen Tolbert and suddenly I started to realize that our adventure was coming close to an end. On one page, it felt like we had just arrived, but on another it felt as if we had been in Liberia for months.

The stands were full as we arrived at our final destination. This was another final kickball match, but in a different district. We were going to have some formal introductions and speeches (Kaillie and I being the keynote speakers!), a play day and then the match was going to get underway. Liberians like their loud speakers LOUD! Everyone's poor ear drums were close to blowing out as we addressed the crowd with our awesome 1 minute Keynote ;) We got to watch some coaches receive their certification as well which was super cool and then the play day began.

The play day was arranged by an organization called ROCH (Restoring Our Children's Hope). I found out later that ROCH was developed by Kaefalla - one of our guides on the first day. He decided to start ROCH when the RTP programs began to phase out of the communities he had worked in. He wanted to find a way to keep implementing the activities and values created by RTP. You see, Right To Play's mandate is to work in the most disadvantaged areas of the world. Once the programs have been implemented and positive and sustainable change has been observed for a few years, Right To Play slowly phases out their involvement. They do this so that they can direct resources to new communities who are in greater need. ROCH has become the next step and is an amazing example of the Right To Play sustainability model in action. Not only are youth being empowered, but leaders are being encouraged as well to create initiatives and empower themselves.

The play session was packed (as you can tell from the photo on the left). I went up onto the bleachers, took a deep breath and tried to absorb the magic that was taking place right in front of my eyes. When I looked around I couldn't stop thinking, "Without Right To Play, none of this would be happening." None of the experiences that Kaillie, Jamie and I had this week would have happened if Right To Play did not exist. We saw a lot. We met a ton of people. We participated in a zillion play sessions. Right To Play is the driving force behind all of this and it's making an incredible impact. The programs are creating a positive space for the next generation to learn valuable skills through play. These spaces are joyful and all-inclusive where hope and potential glow.

As we departed this final visit and headed back to the hotel to grab a quick shower before our 40 hour flight home, I was really satisfied. I wanted to come here and be able to put an experience behind my stories and passion for Right To Play. I believe I did just that. It was a whirlwind, but I witnessed a very powerful movement this week. I am so honoured to be an ambassador.

Kyle

Kaillie, Jamie and I

INCLUSION

INCLUSION

Day 4 - Bong County

During the vicious civil war that consumed Liberia for nearly 15 years, Bong County was the Rebels camp because of it's North Central location. It was easy enough for them to get anywhere from here. Today, we drove 3 hours through pot hole filled highways to visit Bong County and facilitate a session on Inclusion.

Kaillie and I are both familiar with the Right To Play model, but neither of us had ever taught a module before. It was a little intimidating to stand in front of an audience of 30 Liberian coaches in training (CIT's) and communicate in our Canadian english, but we were up for the task.

I personally love facilitating. It gives me a total high when I get in front of a group and provide them with tools to elevate. Providing the materials and questions and then letting them come up with the answers is the best! Honestly, it makes my job really easy, but I also believe that experiencing is the best way to learn.

Our job today was to teach about the importance of inclusion, especially for females and for those with physical challenges (in the module it was originally called disabilities, but one of the students suggested we call it physical challenges instead. Here here!). When we arrived today, we came at a time when the group was playing a game called land mines. One of the coaches in training was in a wheel chair contraption so I knew that this group was already going to be open minded to inclusion and modification.

We started off our session with a brief introduction about ourselves. It's been really interesting watching Kaillie trying to explain bobsleigh to the groups…they usually have a blank stare when she mentions "icy track". I, on the other hand, have the advantage of being able to do a back flip or handstand and then people usually get it ;)

After the intro, we got right into the material.

Q: Why are we learning this today?

A: Because inclusion is one of the core principles behind Right To Play. Sport and play breaks down barriers and differences and allows us all to be together in a peaceful environment. It is essential as a leader that you encourage every child in your community to be a part of the games - regardless of their religion, gender or physical challenge.

We played a game where we number off participants 1-6. 6's were to be referee's and everyone else was to form a circle and play a short game where they tried to get a ball through the other group members legs. Our friend with the physical challenge (Damn it, I forget his name!) was a #4. Kaillie came to me before the game started and wanted to change the referee's to be #4's. I completely put my foot down and said that the learning in this challenge would be so rich if his group has to try and figure out a way to include him in the game. I realized in that moment that it's very natural to want to avoid controversy and modify the game to make it more comfortable for the person with the physical challenge. But think about it for a second, they probably always become the referee and sit on the outside of the game. That is not what we were trying to teach. Every Right To Play game can be modified so that it is still challenging and everyone can be involved. In the end, the group did an excellent job of changing up the game so that everyone got to play. It was definitely one of those moments when the clouds parted ways and a ray of sunshine glimmered through ;)

Our next exercise was to pin point some of the stigma's that females face in their community when it comes to participation in sport. The group did a giant brainstorm and then we selected the top choices (Changes physicality, not able to get pregnant and lack of confidence being a few). Then the CIT's got into groups and discussed possible solutions. This was my favourite part to facilitate. Kaillie and I walked around the room and listened in on what was being discussed. Many of the CIT's were just scratching the surface with words like 'encourage' and 'awareness'. I kept pushing them to dig deeper and kept asking the questions, "What specific action can YOU take? What can YOU say?".

In the end, they came up with some really awesome and specific examples of what they, as leaders, can do to help facilitate the inclusion of females in the Right To Play play sessions. My favourites were: 1. making females the leaders or team captains and 2. having an information session with parents to give them the tools to support female participation. Good work students!

After the session we had lunch (which, sidebar, I believe made my stomach very upset later on!) and then we made the 3 hour trek back to Monrovia. On the drive back, I was asking Jamie - our RTP HQ rep - a million and one questions about how the coach and leadership participants get selected and trained. She explained to me that each of the 30 CIT's all had to submit an application to be involved. They have to write a short piece about what sport and play means to them and what kind of leader they want to become. They are also required to have a couple of non RTP references vouch for their integrity and leadership skills. Once their application is accepted, they do the intense 5 day training program from 8:30am-5:30pm. Once that's complete, they are responsible for organizing and facilitating play sessions with the children in their communities. They are monitored and evaluated for the next 3 months by RTP National staff and if they have elevated their community and become a competent coach, they receive their official Right To Play coach certification in a special ceremony! It's a big process and one that requires pretty intense commitment, but in the end it's a system that produces great coaches.

I was really honoured to have the opportunity to facilitate the Inclusion module today. It made me believe in the power of the programs even more. These coaches are receiving really comprehensive and experiential training and it is helping them to become the best leader they can possibly be. There was energy, excitement and enthusiasm in the room and it made me really hopeful for this crop of coaches. I love how RTP is sustainable - I could see a few individuals in the room who I just knew would be standing in the facilitator shoes one day. It's about creating a cycle of positive change, providing the tools and letting the really motivated coaches rise to the top and help train the next generation. It was very encouraging to see.

I'm going to end this post with a big "I GOT IT". For those of you who know what I'm talking about, please have pity for me. For those of you who have no clue - please pray I don't have "IT" tomorrow when we are out in the field;)

Kyle

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

MARGIBI

MARGIBI

Day 3 - Margibi

What a great day! It was all about playing Santa Claus and bringing equipment to schools and community centres in Margibi County. We also stopped in to check on some of the existing programs and to see how everything was going.

Every new school/centre that becomes affiliated with Right To Play receives a package of basic equipment to get them started with Right To Play games. The package includes 2 soccer balls, 5 small balls, some cones, a couple of blind folds and a ball pump. Not much by our standards of "gifts", but this small package opens up a world of possibility. Right To Play games were created with the thought of equipment limitations in mind. The areas of the world that Right To Play focuses on are some of the most disadvantaged in the world and resources are tight. I have had a lot of people ask me if Right To Play goes in and teaches a community how to play soccer. The answer is NO. Right to Play games are less about physicality and more about reflection, connection and application. Right to Play is more about playing and less about sport. After each game, leaders are taught to have a discussion about what the children observed, felt, experienced or learned in the game. Then they are asked about how this connects to their lives. Lastly, they have a small discussion on how they can apply what they learned to their life moving forward. It's quite brilliant to watch it happen - you see a lot of metaphorical light bulbs turning on after each and every game.

What I noticed the most today was that you could really tell the difference between a community that had had the Right To Play programming implemented for a while - vs - the communities that were just being introduced. In the well versed communities, the children show a much greater sense of respect to themselves, their peers and their elders. They are more open and trustworthy to those with differences. They are more self-confident and you can see the leadership starting to take form. In the schools that had only been on the RTP roster for a couple of weeks, the children were shy, unorganized and slightly disrespectful. They seemed to really question our intention of being there and it was hard to get their attention. It was almost night and day when comparing the two. Another sign that the RTP programming is making an impact.

At the end of the day, we made it to more than 10 schools/centres. We did really quick visits, but it was so rewarding being able to see the joy and hope we brought with us when we dropped off the small package of equipment. It was neat to see how the folks at the Liberian RTP office have to work together to coordinate and monitor in the counties and how everyone in the community seems to know what we're up to when we drive past in the RTP cruiser. They know that Santa Claus is coming to town.

After the days events, we went out with our new friends from the office to a Liberian Wednesday night tradition called Ladies Night. We boogied, shimmied and grooved to our new favourite song:

Overall, an excellent day. I'm feeling really grateful to be here.

Kyle

Monday, April 11, 2011

HOPE

HOPE

Day 2 – Hope

I woke up today with my renewed perspective and I felt really ready for anything. Last night I had a few back and forths on twitter with my pal Adam Van Koeverden and he had some really great advice. He had been to Liberia in 2007 and completely related to the confusion I was experiencing. He reminded me that my role here is to observe, learn, experience and absorb as much as possible so that I can come home and be an even better advocate for Right To Play.

We started the day with a quick planning session at Right To Play headquarters and then we were off to an area called Nu Kru Town Community. We were there for the final match of a month long kick ball tournament that had been going on and coordinated through Right To Play.

When we arrived, there were children everywhere! We got out of our vehicle and a giant play session instantly began.

I noticed an albino child out of the corner of my eye and I was so intrigued. I had heard about this condition, but I had never observed it first hand. I’ve got to be honest, it was hard not to stare. As someone who’s skin is quite prone to burning, it was so intriguing to me that someone with this condition could survive in Africa. The sun here is HOT and the UV rays are very strong. What was even more intriguing to me was the fact that this child was able to be included in the group and play. This was instant proof positive that the Right To Play programs are working. You see, usually a child with albinism is shunned from their community. They are often killed at birth. If they do make it past the first few years, they usually end up contracting skin cancer quite early in their lives. I’ve heard stories of them being hunted because some communities believe that they have special powers. Considering all of these things that occur, it was pretty magnificent watching a child who was so glaringly different from the rest of the children having the opportunity to be included in the games. It was pretty heart warming. The other children were telling me that he could be my son - I kept trying to be funny and made jokes that he and I were vanilla flavoured and they were chocolate and we were all the same beyond that difference.

The kickball tournament was pretty awesome to see. First of all, I was amazed that the bases were made of chunks of grass. How resourceful is that?! The girls were very intense players and super athletic. They could run f.a.s.t! It was really inspiring to see the community come together and show their support and enthusiasm. Gender equality is a big problem in Liberia. Women are looked at as the weaker sex and they are often shunned from participating in physical activity because it has many stigmas behind it. A couple of beliefs are that women won’t be able to have children if they participate in sports and that they won’t be attractive to men because of the way their body will change. Nonsense I say! I was really proud that these girls felt safe enough in a Right To Play space to participate. It was another sign to me that barriers are being broken down because of RTP initiatives. Booyah!

After the conclusion of the tournament and lunch, we headed to another area of town to meet with the coordinators of the Hope Recreation and Resource Centre.

This centre was built in 2008 and it was already extremely run down. Things get quite worn here because Monrovia has one of the most severe rainy seasons anywhere in the world. Outside of the Hope Centre there was a playground and it was full of rusty equipment with missing pieces. Apparently it’s hard to keep a seat on the teeter totter because people steal them and sell them.

Mr.Cooper was the leader of the Hope Centre and he was a very special man. He seemed to have a genuine concern and care for the well being children His goal was to provide a positive space for the youth in his community to grow and prosper into the next generation of Liberian leaders. I asked him about why the centre was called “Hope”. He told me that hope is a very common word in Liberia for good reason. Most Liberians are sick of war, poverty and disease. They are all hopeful for what can be. Hope is one of the most powerful words in Liberia because for so long people had lost their ability to have it. Things were so bad that many started to believe there was no way out - that war and oppression would be their reality for eternity. But Hope has come back into their vocabularies because they have realized that HOPE is possible. HOPE lies within us all. But he was quick to remind me that it is better to act on HOPE than it is to just have HOPE. And that is why they are doing what they do. They are acting on hope and providing a space where hope can exist.Mr.Cooper is in the middle ;)

I can tell you that I felt hope in this place. They had a library full of used books. They had a couple of computers. They had a space for 100 children to sit together in seminars and learn about safe sex, disease prevention, abuse prevention and many other important topics. Education, knowledge and empowerment was very important to Mr.Cooper and his colleagues and that was extremely evident.

After seeing the Hope Centre and having a very inspiring visit, we made the drive back to our hotel. My mind was more at ease then it was at the end of the day yesterday. I was feeling a lot of…hope.

Today I realized that Right To Play is making a tremendous impact. The communities we visited today seemed to be on the right path. The children were respectful and inclusion was very apparent. My biggest learning from today though was that a community is only as strong and hopeful as its leaders. When they have belief in what’s possible then that belief trickles down. The Right To Play model recognizes this and spends a fair amount of time shaping it’s leaders and coaches into examples for the youth to emulate. I’ve always realized the impact and importance of role models, but today I felt it. The leaders are the essential part of this equation.

Kyle

Monday, April 04, 2011

OVERWHELMED - DAY 1 RECAP

OVERWHELMED - DAY 1 RECAP

This first day in Liberia was exciting, hectic, emotional, crazy and confusing. I don't know what I was expecting, but I definitely felt twisted, turned and jostled a bit today.

We started the morning off at the National Right To Play office here in Monrovia. Natasha, a Vancouverite who is the program manager, introduced us to all of the amazing staff and we got our bearings. She then explained the specific Liberian regions and the work that is being done. It was really cool to hear stories about the direct impact Right To Play has had here. She told us one story about a girl who was 19 years old and had dropped out of high school because she failed grade 11 twice - a common occurrence here. She then started to help facilitate the Right To Play programs in her community and it gave her the sense of purpose and self worth that she needed to continue on a positive path. After volunteering with Right To Play for a couple of years, she decided to go back to school and finish her high school diploma. RTP changed the course of her life.

After hanging out at the office for a while, we heading off to the most disadvantaged part of Liberia - an area called West Point.

I've seen Slum Dog Millionaire and photos of "slums". Clearly I'm an expert on the topic, right? Wrong! Holy crap. The conditions were almost impossible to comprehend. The beach was stacked 10 meters high with garbage. Homes were made of scraps and cement. The smell was almost too much to take. I wanted to take photos, but I felt like it was being too inconsiderate. "Here, let me take a photo of you with my Sony camera while you are struggling to survive". I don't want to be that guy.

We went to a community school and met some of the kids. They were CRAZY when we went in. They were screaming and yelling and so excited that we were there. They had no idea who we were or what sports we participated in. They didn't care. They were mostly excited that both Kaillie and I had blonde hair and white skin. I have never had my skin touched and my hair pulled so much in my life! I heard that many of them had never seen a real 'white man' before.

We then went to another couple of schools in the same area and got to experience some Right To Play Games in action. There was joy, there was community and there were smiles. It was quite magical and yet I felt like something was missing for me. I was very uneasy and felt completely out of my element.

After playing and making a fool of ourselves dancing, we sat down with about 30 of the coaches and animators in a circle of sharing to learn more about their experiences as coaches.

There were a lot of messages that came across during this open opportunity to share. We heard about some of their challenges and victories. The biggest challenge is the lack of salary. All coaches are volunteers because there are just simply not enough funds to pay every coach involved. Many communities have upwards of 30 coaches. To create a sense of motivation and appreciation, RTP provides the most willing and dedicated leaders with small incentives like pins, tshirts, bags of rice, public recognition ceremonies…little things that make a big difference here. The biggest victory I felt we heard of was about how the children feel a better sense of self-confidence and they have learned to have more respect for their elders and peers. *On a side note, I have to say that Liberian english is really hard to understand! I was tired from just trying to listen!*

Westside is not a place for the faint of heart. It is a tough and dangerous community in Liberia. Drugs and disease and are rampant. Intense poverty is the reality here and survival is literally the dream at the beginning of the day for most.

I was completely out of my element and felt super confused and vulnerable when we left. I had never experienced devastation at that level before and it was intensely shocking.

In the afternoon we visited a couple more communities and saw the Right To Play programs in action. It became a whirlwind of quick stops that culminated with a very unexpected experience.

One of the leaders in the final community that we visited completely broke the law of respect and trust within the RTP model. To make a long and complicated story short, one of the leaders had been very severely injured by her husband (essentially she had made him mad and he put a burning hot piece of metal down her throat). He was now in jail and she was close to death. The community desperately wanted us, the White Man, to see her. They asked our guide for the day, Kaefalla, if it was possible. He told them NO. He said that we were here to see the children play and we were not here to throw money at the unfortunate incident that occurred. Well, after the play session we went to have a meeting with the communities RTP leaders to talk about their challenges and victories and low and behold, they brought us right to the front door of the injured woman. Kaefalla was furious and embarrassed. He could not believe the disrespect that this community was showing us. You could tell he was on the verge of completely ripping them a new one (you know what I mean) and yet he remained calm and presented his arguments about why we would NOT be seeing her. Then he expressed his disappointment in the community and shamed them for embarrassing Right To Play and themselves.

It was very intense and awkward. And to make it even more weird, there were about 50 random villagers just standing around and listening in on the happenings. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. It was a long day and I was donesville.

When we got back to the hotel, I was really confused and upset. I had seen the beauty of play sessions and their ability to bring a community together, but I had also seen total poverty and disrespect in those same communities. How could this dichotomy occur…wasn’t Right To Play the cure all magic potion that led to white picket fences and impossible dreams come true?

After some intense reflection, I came to the conclusion that I entered into this adventure with extremely rose coloured glasses. Perhaps I had the false impression that Right To Play communities were going to be instantly transformed into pristine examples of shiny optimism for the rest of the country to follow. I had this hope inside that we would see a very noticeable difference on the surface. In my heart, I really hoped for this. But I realized that I was na├»ve to believe that Right To Play activities were going to completely change the cycle and beliefs of an entire country in a short period of time. You just can’t make a third world country a first world one overnight. The reality and true message that Right To Play is promoting is that sport is a powerful tool for change, but change takes time. Liberia is a country that is rebuilding after 15 years of devastating war and the simple introduction of sport and play programs are not going to give the country an instantaneous facelift. It just doesn’t happen that way – it takes an immense amount of resources to instigate change.

Change, however, is rooted in a willing attitude and I observed that powerful positive numerous times today. Firstly, I saw inspiring leaders stepping up and committing to change. Secondly, I saw smiles and joy emitting from the youth who had the opportunities to play. All participants are willing and that is the most important step.

While immersed in the overwhelming hecticness of the days events, it was difficult for me to pinpoint the real tangibles because of the shocking reality of the way life is here. I wasn’t prepared.

So, I have decided that tomorrow I will face the day with optimism, but a more realistic optimism. I am going to take what I saw today, potentially the worst of the worst, and use it as my gauge for the rest of our visits. Smiles and joy are valuable, but I know that sport for development is about much more than that. It’s about sustainability, respect, fair play, dedication, inclusion, disease prevention, health promotion…and many many more measurables. Tomorrow, I am committed to having an open heart and keeping a keen eye ready to observe those benefits taking form.

Shake and snap,

Kyle

Ps- The shake and snap is the Liberian handshake. Take a look at the link for more info.


Sunday, April 03, 2011

LIBERIAN ADVENTURES - PART 1

LIBERIAN ADVENTURES - PART 1

My coordinates for the next week are in Monrovia, Liberia. I am here with my good palKaillie Humphries doing a site visit with Right To Play.

I have been an ambassador for the organization for the past 6 years and have loved being able to spread the word about positive impact that sport for development has around the world. I know first hand the profound effect that sport and play can have on positively influencing lives and I am super psyched that I finally get a chance to be here and to see it up close and personal.

When we arrived today after a ridiculous amount of flying (Calgary-Toronto-Brussels-Monrovia), I experienced a bit of a shock. No matter how hard you try to believe that all of the world works with the same order, it's just not reality…and when you leave one part of the world where it is snowing and -6C, that doesn't mean that the weather will be frightful half way across the globe;)

That first waft of warm air hitting your face and penetrating your sneakers as you walk off the plane - all 30C of it - was not expected. Calgary has had what could perhaps be considered the coldest and snowiest winter in history. I forgot what heat like this felt like. It's pretty relentless.

Standing in the customs line reminded me that in some countries, there are unspoken rules about who gets the right of way. When you aren't from the land, you start to notice that people who were behind you before are mysteriously being ushered to the front of line. Fine, I get it. I'm white with blue eyes and blonde curly hair. I can't even begin to pretend that I'm from Liberia;)

At the baggage claim, I could not believe the pandemonium. I consider myself a good traveler with lots of "travel respect". I'm not pushy to get off the plane. I stand a far distance back from the baggage carosel until I see my bag on it's way - then I move in for the grab. Sure, I'll admit, sometimes I like to strategically swing my bag off the carosel so it 'accidentally' hits the person who's standing right next to it in my way, but you've gotta take a couple of shots when you can, right?

I have never experienced mayhem and complete disorder as I did at the Monrovia customs. There were 40 people with bags and carts trying to push their way through to the ONE lady who was checking bag tags to make sure they matched your little sticky bag tag thing-a-ma-bob. I almost had a panic attack…and my toes got run over on a few occasions.

Once through customs, we went outside to meet Robert, our driver. While Robert went to get the car, we were befriended by a gentleman who seemed like he was up to no good. You know how you get that feeling that someone is out to screw you over, but you don't act on the intuition because you aren't quite sure if you are being over cautious? I had that feeling. Once Robert pulled up the vehicle, the dude who was trying to be our friend demanded to wheel our bags. I can wheel my own bag thank you very much! Then he demanded $10 for his services. What do you do? Tell him to eff off? Probably not a great idea since you don't really know how that will go over in a country where civil wars have occurred. I wanted to tell him that, but Kaillie pulled out a $20 and demanded change! Smart girl.

Liberian Lesson Learned: Don't ever trust someone when they generously offer to help…they aren't just doing it from the kindness in their heart.

I hate it when something like that happens because it totally puts you on guard for the rest of the trip. It's hard to trust people moving forward because you kind of have to assume that they have ulterior motives. Nothing comes for free, baby.

After the initial "Urg" experience, we had an hour drive from the airport to our hotel. The drive was dark (and I had to pee SO bad the entire time!), but I could see that we are most definitely not in Kansas…er, Calgary…anymore. There were thousands of people walking along the sides of the roads. I couldn't quite figure out where they were going. There was little electricity. People were gathered in groups and I became very curious about what their conversations were about.

I started to wonder about what people say when you ask them their address. Do they receive mail? What is their main source of income? What is their reason for waking up in the morning? What do these people talk about, think about and dream about? What drives them? How many of them resent people like me who come to their country for 5 days and complain about being ripped off for $10?

I am both excited and nervous about this adventure we are embarking on. I have no idea what to expect, but I am looking forward to being able to find answers to some of my questions. Most importantly, I am looking forward to being able put an experience behind my stories and passion for Right To Play.

Kyle

Friday, April 01, 2011

CO-HOSTING BREAKFAST TELEVISION

CO-HOSTING BREAKFAST TELEVISION

I had a great time co-hosting Breakfast Television in Calgary on Thursday March 31. Fingers crossed I can come back again - It felt like a really good fit!

Check out the link for a couple of interview segments that we did: Breakfast Television

Cheers!

Kyle