Vikings learn of African adventure
8th November 2012
Widnes Vikings this week welcomed Valhalla Foundation community coach Ben Morris back into the office.
Fresh from his recent Rugby League adventure in Ghana, Ben caught up with Vikings media apprentice Joshua Worrall and detailed below is a brief account of his time spent overseas.
Firstly, Ben was keen to point out that the trip to the developing country was a positive event for everyone involved, as he explains: "A 6,000km journey and we landed in Accra, the capital of Ghana, which has a population of 25 million people.
“There are 17 different languages spoken in Ghana, with English becoming more and more popular.
"As in a large number of African countries, there are high levels of poverty and infant mortality. In Ghana, 57 out of 1000 children die.
“Ghana itself played a part in the history of one of mankind's darkest periods; the slave trade and the South Coast is littered with slave castles where the native people were sold and shipped off to the Americas to work as slaves in plantations.
"An hour's drive out of Accra is the village of Bueko where we had been invited to by the Anglican Diocese of Ghana as part of developing outreach programme.
"The first Rugby League session gave us a chance to distribute the Halton Housing Trust, Medicash and Brewer's Fayre T-shirts to every child.
“It was clear from the smiles on their faces that they were delighted with the gift. We also handed out some Heinz Big Soup Balls donated by the Vikings.
"I was eager to see how the children would react to an oval shaped object and to my amazement 90 per cent of them started to pass the ball from hand to hand, whereas the remaining children attempted to play football.
“We then started playing games with the entire school, introducing the unfamiliar shaped object in addition to some basic Rugby League skills. Demonstration of these skills played a vital role, as many of the children were non-English speaking, but we were able to utilise a few older children with a better understanding of the English language.
"The theme of the first day was the introduction of ourselves to the children and to then play some fun games incorporating the sport of Rugby League.
“I have to admit that I was impressed with their ability to adapt to an unfamiliar sporting activity and also their obvious athleticism. During the games, the children were always smiling and having a laugh with each other.
“We knew they already understood the rules of the games, with some children being cheekier than others by knowingly bending the rules. It was certainly a fun-filled first session."
“Overall, Ben and his colleagues spent an entire school week alongside the Ghanaian children, teaching them a brand new sport through the Rugby League related activities on offer, as well as academic studies in English and Drama.
“Something we take for granted in the UK is the easy access and availability of safe pitches and green spaces.
However, this wasn't the case in Bueko, as Ben points out: "Turning up at the school, I realised the field was a dry, barren, hard surface and it was marked out by a makeshift football goal at one end and a fallen one at the other.
“The sun proved to be a difficult obstacle during the activities, as it is very high in the sky along the equator, this meant that dehydration was therefore a huge factor.
“Having said that, there is now access to readily available, clean water for the children, which has seen their health vastly improve since the installation of a water well in the village (of which the funds were raised by Peter Morris, a local Widnes businessman). Their previous access to water was a lake a couple of miles away.
"As the week progressed, we introduced more and more skills and a selection of the rules of Rugby League, with each child keen to embrace new aspects of the sport. Introducing the forward pass rule, which the children found amusing, was helped by a local villager named Danny, who took part in our demonstration.
“We ended each session with a conditioned game of Rugby League with the focus of the session evident.
“After their introduction to the referee's whistle, the children were able to grasp the rules and started to become autonomous."
At the end of the week, the travelling party was joined at the school by the Rugby League Development Manager for West Africa, Sylvester Wellington, who made quite an impression on everyone, as Ben explains; "It was great to meet the pioneer, who is constantly planting new seeds and preaching the gospel of Rugby League in a brand new area.
“He contributed to the session during the day with an instantaneous, positive effect.
“Although he didn't speak the local dialect of the Villagers from Bueko, there was more understanding between speaking the Gha language. This had an immediate impact by adding fluidity to the activities."
Ben was also quick to praise the raw talent showcased by the children, alongside the willingness to learn new things; "In the afternoons when the sun was at its highest, we ventured inside the classrooms to teach the local school children the English Language.
“I was really impressed with their eagerness and literacy skills. We gave each child a Children's Bible and read a story together as a class, asking individuals to read certain parts aloud.
“We then dramatised the stories and involved all of the children and their teachers.
“The facilities available to the children inside the classroom were very basic to say the least; a chalkboard at the front and somewhere to sit, which makes their achievements all the more remarkable.
"After a reflection period of my trip, it is easy to focus on what we did in Ghana, but less obvious is the impact the people and children have had on my life.
“I'm taken aback by the simplicity of their lifestyles in Ghana as they are not possession-driven people cluttered with advertising propaganda, and the Media telling them how they should and shouldn't live their lives.
“In the UK, one of the RFL's priorities is to build community cohesion through bringing people together; Rugby League may be new to Ghana, but the overwhelming sense of community is admirable.
“Both individually and as a group, we always felt welcomed everywhere we went. It has certainly made a lasting impression on me."