Now in Panama City we scouted out our first school in Central America.
It took me a lot of door knocking - often being held outside the school gates for a couple of days (below). Eventually, I managed to meet the headteacher of a local primary school and agree to deliver tennis in their school. Although it did look like she was just challenging me to a starting competition most of the time, with an odd glare. Regardless, we're in!
In my broken Spanish, I organised for us to deliver tennis sessions on the next day, agreeing to 4 groups of 16 children. On arrival, we quickly realised something in my communications went very wrong… There we were, with a 3 meter tennis net, 4 balls and two racquets... faced with a group of 62 children... All sitting in the tennis hall eager for some tennis with the foreign visitors (below). Oh dear.
Setting up the net, we racked our brains and discussed the clear ratio issues with the teachers and sorted out a rotation of activities for all the children to be able to play (below). Sure I'll be using this as an answer in an interview one day 'show an example where you adapted to the situation or thought-on-you-feet'.
The children absolutely loved it! Smiles on their faces as they relished the opportunity to try a new sport. Some of them were pretty good as well - you can tell some of them had been exposed to ball skills before. Particularly one child who insisted on doing a tasmanian devil spin before hitting each shot. Although we did ask him to try and stop, it did secretly make us smile.
At the end of the week I took a look in the schools sports store cupboard and equipment consisted of 4 deflated basketballs... thats it! It was explained that these balls they only used for football - their only P.E. class. How can such a large school in the middle of Panama City be so underfunded? Regardless of the politics involved, they are in desperate need of the new equipment and it made us realise how important our visit was to them.
I made sure to take all of the relevant details from the headmistress and promised to have the new equipment to them before the end of the year.
Passing through beautiful Costa Rica, we hit a few balls in the Parque Central, San José (below). With the locals wondering what on earth we were up to, we soon had a little crowd gather to watch the match. I will say I won, although Dag, my Norwegian opponent, I'm sure would say different.
A coach ride and shuttle across the boarder and we arrive in Nicaragua. Here we stopped in San Juan Del Sur where I met with Veronica, the director of a children’s foundation linking with 6 primary schools (below). A lovely lady who, threw broken language, we share some very cheesy on-liner jokes. I also chatted to administrator Oliver, who pretty much runs the whole operation from his wheelchair in the office. Amazing. So I challenged him to a game of wheelchair tennis one day.
Entering into one of the primary schools, organised by Veronica, we are swarmed with children who all lift the net and equipment into position (above). There are so many children on the dusty playground that we just about manage to deliver coherent sessions - often gaining children as they moved between class and break time. Organised chaos, but everyone loved their tennis and the teacher begged that we come back one day - worryingly probably the most organised P.E. sessions they've ever had. Their courtyard will fit the equipment pack in perfectly with the whole school being able to access it for P.E. lessons in the future. Probably the whole school playing at one time!
We travel through Honduras playing over a pipe and concrete barrier fence (above), an imaginative homemade way to separate vehicles. We then move swiftly into El Salvador, with Matt and James (Irish travel companion) having a hit down the back streets of El Tunco (above) - how very gangster. A beautiful setting, as this path led straight down to the beach and a great surf break.
Over the boarder, into Guatemala, we visit the town of Antigua and ready ourselves for the 3880m hike up Volcano Acatenango. Many people were dropping equipment and any weight possible before hiking... but I slung my guitar case on my back (containing the tennis kit) along with all the camping equipment. To many bemused faces. We all just smiled, and made the climb-up hoping there would be somewhere for us to set the mini tennis net up.
At the top we were faced with the perfect location to mark out the mini tennis court, with volcano Fuego looming the background. Not a bad photo... (below).
Play was interrupted when Fuego violently exploded in a with plumes of ash and flowing lava behind. How rude! But wow, what a sight to behold, as the earth beneath our feet literally shook.
Recovering from the hike, we visit the beautiful Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, surrounded by a row of (inactive) volcanoes. Arriving in the small village of Santa Cruz, which is only accessible by boat. Here I met Australian Alex McFarlan, the Program Director of the local schools foundation and we organise to deliver tennis in the afternoon.
The children arrived in mismatched dirty clothing, but with broad smiles. This was one of the most rewarding sessions of the whole trip so far – with all the children giggling their way through the session in the most beautiful surroundings (below).
Through the day I took a video log that we will be edited once back in the UK for people to see how a typical day looks for us travelling. [To be released here August 2017]
To feel like your standing in the session, please follow the link below for our 360 Virtual Reality photo of the session:
Making our way up through the incredible country of Guatemala, we journeyed across into Belize and took the boat straight across onto the island of Caye Caulker. When finding our Hostel (Go Slow) we met the wonderful Chubb family; Father Basilio, Mother Rosie, and Children Brian and Beyanni. Checking into the hostel I met owner Basilio who had to run into Belize City that afternoon - and it was self proclaimed ‘boss of the Hostel’, 9yr old Beyanni, who checked me in and showed me my room. A confidence and maturity well beyond her years.
Both 7yr old Brian (above, left) and Beyanni (above, right), once seeing the tennis kit in the guitar case, were desperate to pick up a racquet and play. So the next morning I set up in the dusty road (don’t worry no cars in Caye Caulker, just the odd golf cart) and ended up playing through to early afternoon. We had a live video stream of the tennis on our facebook page for everyone to see us as the session happened (example below).
One Rastafarian man walked passed, looked at the net and racquets, and asked what sport we were playing? He had never seen tennis before… Never! And was intrigued what we were getting up to. Even having a little go himself!
The family have promised to act as ambassadors for the project and will receive the equipment package to pass onto the children’s school so as many children on the island as possible have access to tennis when it arrives.
Central America has been an incredible journey. With such diverse countries, and welcoming people - once eventually into the school - the reception we had was fantastic, and we felt we have made a real and lasting impact on these children's lives.
We will definitely be back in Central America, having far too much fun not to. Some of the locations, particularly Nicaragua, we would like more time to be able to deliver to all the schools in the foundation. But for now we will be concentrating on organising the difficult task of getting the equipment packs out to the sites. Then they can all continue their tennis and provide us with updates on how their tennis is developing.