Helping African children to be gymnasts

THE VISIT to Africa by Cory Johnson and Mark Wylie as part of the Shetland to Zambia Gym Project has come to an end after almost five weeks away.

The pair, from the Shetland Gymnastics Association, have been in Livingstone in Zambia helping under-privileged children with gymnastics as well as other school work. The trip was made possible as part of a sports project run by African Impact.

Cory and Mark were able to help children of all ages with the basics as well as progressing to skills such as walkovers, flips and somersaults. The sessions took place outside mainly on dirt areas or sand at both Nakatindi and Mwandi Community Schools, both in villages just outside Livingstone next to Victoria Falls on the border with troubled Zimbabwe.

Cory and Mark also ran a Summer Holiday Club during the last week of their stay, which involved pre-school gym classes, English and Maths. During the holiday club they walked through the large village of mud huts with a Dutch girl who was also a volunteer. She played her flute all the way and this let the children know it was time for the holiday club and over 100 children came running out of their homes and followed them back to the school.

The school roll at Nakatindi was 413, of which, sadly, 285 were orphans mainly through Aids. Mark said it was very sad at times: “On our very first day a nine-year-old boy asked me to come back tomorrow and bring him a pencil and a book to read – that’s all he wanted.

“Two slightly older girls told me they had no mother and no father and asked me if I could be their dad. Another girl asked Cory if she could come home with her and help her mother as she got beaten every night by her father.”

The children were very keen to learn whatever the subject was and no matter what age they were. Lang­u­age was a slight problem espe­ci­ally with the pre-school classes but generally their English was good.

The pair handed out hundreds of pens, wristbands and badges donated by Scottish Gymnastics as well as balloons, bubbles, pencils and lollipops donated by various local companies, friends and family, to the children.

They also took a parachute with them from Shetland, donating it to Nakatindi School after their project at the school had finished. They gave crayons, paint and paper to the school, which will be used in the school to teach the children about HIV and Aids.

African Impact helped construct two balance beams for Mark and Cory to use and this consisted of a five metre plank of wood on top of building bricks. The pair played musical arabesque with some of the classes awarding prizes to the win­ners. However, there was no power at the schools so had to use a battery powered I-pod and speakers. The music was a rare treat for the child­ren and they thoroughly enjoyed it.

Mark said: “At the end of term we were invited back to Nakatindi School as representatives of African Impact for a fundraising event called a Braii. This was a barbecue with local dance and music, including a funny play on HIV prevention.

“There were speeches by the Mayor of Livingstone and various government ministers, who we met to speak about our project and African Impact. The school’s head teacher Mr Choongo, in his speech, spoke about how well his pupils react to international influences brought by volunteers from African Impact as well as their passion for sport and education that they bring to the school.

“In the evening we met local co-ordinators and spoke about the future of gymnastics in Zambia and about teaching teachers the basics of the sport so they can continue long after we had left.”


Get Latest News in Your Inbox

Join the The Shetland Times mailing list to get one daily email update at midday on what's happening in Shetland.