Fellow Mama Sanni Virtannen traveled to Uganda to meet up with Helen Buteme (Female Rugby Development in Uganda) and Annekatrin Els (Entebbe Sharks). It wasn’t her first trip to an african country, she’s been to Botswana last year with a group of finnish players.
Q: Please share the quintessence of your trip with us….
A: We are definitely on the right track. The trip to Uganda underlined and clarified that. It all comes down to: rugby makes girls stronger, as simple as that.
Q: What is it that rugby to offer to these girls?
A: What rugby gives to these girls goes way beyond the sport. It might be the first time in their lives they are needed, heard, pushed forward and counted on. What they do, whether it is push ups alone or tackling for their team, or baking for raising funds, gives results. They can set goals for themselves in a very concrete way, and see and feel the results. The girls come from such backgrounds that often it feels like they really have no power over their own lives. In rugby they can be the ones who decide; if I do my push ups, if I walk all the way to trainings, if I give my all in a game, I will be a part of the team. I will succeed, I will get to travel even, I will have this adult in my life who cares for me. I even might get my school fees payed. It is up to me. And that, to me, is one of the greatest things and should never be forgotten.
Q: Are all the girls this determined?
A: Some of the girls take that chance, some don’t. Helen is amazing. She sees that some things are up to the girls themselves; the push ups, remembering the mouth guard, giving all you have in the practise. And then there are things, that the girls have no power over. Like money, family, school events on a game day. If the girls make the right decisions in what they can, Helen is ready to work her butt off for the rest. She will find the money for the travelling, she will help with the school fees, she will go and talk to the parents. She supports the coaches and travels to see the girls constantly. Irene (her sister) is there with her, and they also are active in the association. Even if not everybody likes them- they are strong and they say what is on their mind. They make things happen, big time.
Q: Besides projects like “Boob Support”, how can the Mamas help to make this work?
A: We are nothing without the locals. They are the heart and soul and our part is to support them. To create a way to tell them how extremely important their work is, is very important. As people tend to get tired and even blind to their own work. We have great connections, and the way I see The Mamas leans more and more to the direction where the network and the connections are our biggest asset.
If we can somehow help them, somehow support and lighten their job for a while and also give the girls the feeling that they are appreciated and important, it is a lot already. Sports bras and equipment is one thing. To go there and be with them, coach and make them laugh and learn, is another. Both important. To not just leave and forgot them is also very important. We need to keep in touch, with the coaches and the players, if nothing else just to have a forum for people to send greetings, photos, coaching tips… and ask how are you, whats happening, it was great to meet you.
Q: This sounds very positive, but maybe there are also some downsides?
A: We can never fully know how things are in the place we visit; how active the people, how well functioning the association, the culture itself, the “picture of a woman/girl in sports” might be. Still, we need to work with the locals and from their point of view adding our own, strong point. It’s no use of going somewhere and just listen and copy what they have done in the past. But even worse would be to go somewhere with a message and schedule that is not flexible to anything. The point is to go there, have a strong, solid The Mamas-Message, and see how that message can benefit the girls and actives. To know the core of the message so well, that it can be moulded to the needs of the group of people we work with. We do not go only to teach or only to learn. We go to co-operate.
The deeper message behind this all is, at least to me, the simple fact: there are many ways of being a woman, and a mother. It is more than ok to be strong, even loud. We need to find time to talk with people. Playing together creates a connection, and that opens a chance for interacting and learning from each other. We did a few little “exercises” with the Sharks that were about their role in the team, about teamwork in general or about self-confidence. I wish we had done more of those. If I would now go again I would find more time for those. They were not very used to such thinking, as also the school system is very different from ours – reflecting, evaluating themselves, giving feed back to others, setting goals… those are things that are very familiar to us, but not necessarily to these girls or their coaches. I believe they could benefit from that greatly.
Q: Did the trip give You some new ideas about our work with the Mamas?
A: Maybe, in the future, we can have The Mamas coaching courses, camps for teams or individual players, or some other kind of sponsored more concrete way of supporting the people who share our vision. But there are things we can do already now (or can we?). I think one of the very first priorities is to get a well functioning home page, that includes a lot of stuff; the blog, the fb pages, the basic info about us, stories of what we have already done and plans for what might happen next. There is the players group, the “back to the game” training group, there could be a section for the teens…. So many things that at least in my head they are a bit of a mess and I don’t know where to start!
Q: Well then: last words!
A: More concrete stuff, we need Mamas stuff, for us. We need to have T-shirts or such for travelling – people are interested. We need to have a brochure and business cards. When we travel, we need to be able to represent, constantly. Just today I was sailing in a traditional fishing boat in Zanzibar talking to a Swedish lady about us. What we do might be very small compared to many other organizations, but it is understandable and interesting. Boob Support always makes people ask more.
Thanks, Sanni, for this beautiful example of The Mamas work!