Take on a significant challenge
I first got involved with the Tag Rugby Trust in 2011. My A-level year was drawing to a close and, although I had secured a place at university, I knew that I wanted to take a year out of education before beginning my degree. To some people, taking a ‘gap-yah’ provokes images of teenagers drifting around, often abroad, taking life as easy as possible. In my mind, there’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what you want to do, however, what I really wanted to get out of my 12 months ‘off’, was the opportunity to take on a significant challenge – one where I could put myself to good use by helping others – if that could include time overseas, then all the better. As I began to put together a provisional itinerary with the guys at the TRT, I realised that I would be able to tick all of these boxes and more.
Out of my comfort zone
The five months I spent in Eastern and Southern Africa are some of the most memorable of my life. To be completely honest about it, the experience was initially quite overwhelming! Being a fresh-faced, 19-year-old stranger in a land that contrasted starkly with the UK was a lot to take in – I’m happy to admit that in some ways I was well outside of my comfort zone. But that was what I wanted my experience to be about – it was supposed to be challenging, and a little bit scary!
I soon settled in to the pace and way of life, closely supported by the TRT volunteers and contacts on the ground in each of the countries I was visiting. I was also lucky enough to be joined by another UK volunteer, who was working with the TRT as part of his degree course. Needless to say, we quickly became very good mates, and it was fantastic to be working and travelling together.
We spent time in Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and had some incredible experiences. We snorkelled in Zanzibar, bungee jumped at Victoria falls, travelled for three days by train – passing though national parks and game reserves from Tanzania into Zambia and, of course, took time to see some of Africa’s most iconic wildlife.
Even with the excitement of all these new experiences, in truth, the most memorable part of the whole trip has to be the people who we met and worked with. We coached hundreds of children, trained numerous young leaders & teachers, and were supported by the kindest and most dedicated TRT volunteers. Without meaning to sound patronising, many of these people are really up against it, but I had never before met so many happy, passionate and generous individuals.
Make a difference to people’s lives
I began to see with great clarity how a game as simple as tag rugby can make such a difference to people’s lives. It was fantastic to see girls at school come out of their shells, putting the boisterous, rowdy boys in their place on the pitch! To see young leaders shouldering responsibility, learning transferable skills and becoming role models for the younger children. To see the often overworked and underpaid teachers laughing and smiling with the kids during the tag sessions, and to witness their instant enthusiasm to continue to build and develop tag programmes at their schools.
Tag rugby is a fun game to play, but the way in which the TRT uses it as a vehicle for so much more than that is astounding. During my trip, my eyes were opened to some very harsh realities, but I also clearly saw how a small amount of work could make such a huge difference.
I learned some valuable personal lessons along the way – how to think on my feet, how to live and work in new and unfamiliar environments, and the best ways to get out of ‘a sticky situation (or two…)’. I made lifelong friends and experienced things I will remember forever – I have, and will continue to work with TRT, both in the UK and abroad, whenever I can, and encourage others to join in… it’s so worthwhile and utterly life-changing.