Opportunities are created in After School programs
Written by Shubi Bocko an After School Coordinator at Girls in the Game
When I was nine years old, my family moved from Tanzania to the far South Side of Chicago. My father was studying in the States for a long time. After he was done with his studies, he got a job here and brought all of us or his family to Chicago for better opportunities and a better life.
Living in Tanzania for the first 9 years of my life gave me a different perspective. I grew up with two cultures intertwining. At home, everything was Tanzanian in school or public things were American. So, in a way, I juggled two cultures and understand things from both cultural perspectives. I can easily adapt to both without a problem. In addition, having been born in a country where people don’t have much but are still happy, makes me appreciate the little things in life. Don’t get me wrong poverty does exist in the USA, but not to the degree that it does in other countries.
A few years ago, I had a great opportunity to return to work in Tanzania as a Peace Corps Health Educator. Working and living in Tanzania was a great opportunity for me to reconnect to my roots and learn more about my heritage.
While working in Tanzania I had a great opportunity to work with girls. The daily routine for most girls in rural Tanzania is going to school, make good grades and go home. Once girls arrive home, they have little time to play because they must help their families collect water, clean and cook. So, the whole idea of having a sports, health and leadership after-school curriculum for girls is a foreign concept in rural Tanzania. In addition, Tanzania girls who are athletic don’t have coaches, a gym or equipment, so they create their own gym by drawing boundaries on the ground. They also use rocks and sticks to play local games, and they create balls by using plastic bags and rubber bands.
This is quite unfortunate because I believe that After school programs are so important and they teach us so much about life, building relationships and overcoming challenges. And this is one of the many reasons why I decided to do a year of service with AmeriCorps through Girls in the Game.
During my Peace Corps service, I had a great opportunity to create an art group for elementary girls where we learned about HIV/AIDS and Malaria prevention through arts. Meaning we learned about heavy topics in a light and creative way. We did dances, skits, scenario and poetry. Most of the girls were shy beyond imagination. They would giggle and cover their faces with their hands. Over time they eventually opened and were able to recite poems in front of a large audience.
I learned that cultural stigmas prevent girls from reaches their full potential. From the time they are born girls basically have set roles. Going to school and helping mothers with house chores. But when girls are given the right tools, opportunities, and space to do great things they never cease to amaze me. And girls are more prone to open and try new things in groups that are just for girls. When in mix groups, most girls get shy or distracted or let the boys take over.
I related to the girls in a sense that I too have been their age before and cultural speaking Tanzanian parents don’t have “life skills” conversations with their kids. The expectation for most Tanzanian girls is to make good grades and respect everyone. So, in a way, I knew that these girls had so many questions regarding other things in life like and I am glad I was able to create an open space where they asked those questions.
I truly believe in after-school programs for girls because they provide a safe, fun and learning environment.
Most students are in schools over 8 hours a day learning about general subjects like math, reading, science, etc. However, after-school programs allow students to get to be in a more relaxed environment where they can talk about life and build essential life skills. Through after-school sports, students learn the importance of teamwork, healthy living and, for some students, afterschool provides girls an outlet they wouldn’t have otherwise.
Whether girls live in Tanzania or the United States, they want similar things. Girls often feel trapped in what they feel society wants them to be. They want a safe place where they can open up, ask questions and have someone listen. They want an open and supportive environment where they try new things and be active. That’s the kind of space Girls in the Game strives to provide every girl.
Shubi Bocko is one of the After School Coordinators at Girls in the Game. She came to Girls in the Game through Americorps.