“Stella Maris students have confidence”

Yesterday was one of the very best days we’ve had in Africa so far! We had the opportunity to tag along with some of the students, one of the teachers and the other two volunteers on a trip to a nearby school for a field day.

Nobody was entirely sure what it was going to entail, other than some races. Our school held trial races during the first few days of the week to find our speediest kids in the 100 m, 200 m, 300 m, 400 m and 800 m. They selected nine students to represent Stella Maris.

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Joost and I showed up at school yesterday morning at 8:15 am, having been told that events would start at the other school at 8:30. Sometime after 8:30, we all piled into the van. It was close enough to walk to, but cramming nine students and six adults into a van is way more fun! Plus, we obviously had to save our kids’ legs for the races 🙂

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We arrived at the school, only to find that some of the other schools hadn’t arrived yet. Ha, so typical. While we waited, we goofed around in the sunshine, played volleyball (a first for our students!–we evened the playing field by putting Joost at the net… I’m not sure the other team appreciated going up against a 6’7” man…) and met kids from other schools. The littlest ones seemed to gravitate most to Adam, Terry and Joost. Adam claims that Tanzanian children like holding hands with men because they are so unaccustomed to thick arm hair!

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After a few hours of waiting, we were finally all summoned to the edge of the field… to pick teams for a soccer match. We hadn’t known there’d be a game and most of our kids were too small to play, but a few of the boys wanted to give it a go. They ran onto the field for a pretty intense warm up, while the girls all complained about how they wanted to play. I loved it. I love that our boys weren’t afraid to play with the bigger kids and I love that our girls wanted equality on the sports fields!

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Finally, it was time for the races! We had kids competing in almost every event. Most of the children ran barefoot through the muddy field, and they all ran in their school uniforms. I love our kids for many reasons, but yesterday I was so impressed with how much heart and spirit they had. Many of the racers were bigger, stronger and faster than our students, yet our kids still kept asking to be put in to race, even with the full knowledge that they could never win. They ran for fun–just how it should be. And one of our boys got third place in two events and one of our girls got second place in two events! I was so proud of our students for their good attitudes, speedy times and support of each other. It was entertaining to hear the other teachers talk after the races. One said, ‘the wzungu school is fast.’ Another said, ‘The difference between our schools is that the Stella Maris students have confidence.’ All of us volunteers were so pleased to hear that! The teaching environment within the volunteers is very different than other schools here. We love our kids and encourage them, instead of beating them with sticks (our teacher was one of the only teachers at the race not brandishing a large stick to hit the children with when they misbehaved). We could tell the difference: our students were polite, behaved well and enjoyed our company. The other students spent time hitting each other, breaking tree branches and running away from their teachers.

There were many striking differences between races here in Tanzania and races that would be held at home. The kids ran barefoot. There was no track. There were no medals or participation ribbons. Many of the older, more developed girls had trouble running fast because of their chests. I have yet to see a sports bra here in Tanzania–can you imagine being held back in athletics simply due to lack of a bra?! Regardless, it was so much fun to witness and cheer for our students!

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Unfortunately, one of our littlest (and cutest/most polite) students got a bit spooked while watching the others race. He had qualified for the 800 m event, despite being the smallest child in his grade by quite a bit. He was so much smaller than the ‘big kids’ at the race, though, that when it was getting close to race time, he was nowhere to be found. After a lot of searching, I finally found him sitting under a tree. “Teacher, my foot is broken,” he said. I think he meant that it was injured because he had stepped on a rock, but we could tell he was just so nervous and embarrassed. So, he sat the race out and instead got extra cuddle time!

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Overall, it was such a great day that gave us some more one-on-one time with some of the kids and allowed us to be silly and enjoy each other’s company. I know the kids loved it, if for no other reason than they got to come back to the hotel afterwards and have celebratory soda and popcorn!

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