One of the great challenges we had in coming to Marondera in January 2015 was dealing with the newness of karate for girls in a community entrenched in traditional conceptions of gender roles. There was already a karate club in Marondera, run by Gerald, who turned out to be our greatest ally in this project; but as Gerald pointed out when we first met him, almost all of the members (except his daughter) were men. Winning the community over to the idea that martial arts could lift up girls and women and so-doing bring everyone else up with them wasn't something that we could do with a couple of punches and kicks, especially given the short amount of time that we stayed in Marondera. When we left after three weeks, we felt that we had planted a seed, but it remained to be seen whether it would grow and bloom or wilt and die. We left the project in the hands of Gerald and he did a stellar job of keeping it running, but he experienced a significant rate of drop-outs as some of our girls were discouraged by their parents to continue with karate and chose instead more traditionally female sports. Numbers were dwindling, especially as Gerald had some serious personal challenges to face and needed to miss training more than once.
When we arrived at Nagle House last week, girls timidly poked their heads through the door of the training hall, and there were some familiar faces, but very few. I was afraid that we would have to start from scratch again... and if we had to do that, then how could we sustain this in the long run?
My fears were unfounded: almost unnoticeably, number began to swell on the second, then third training, and suddenly, I turned around during the warm up led by Sensei Mark Caddy, and there was a whole row of teachers having a go in their colourful african dresses! We handed them T shirts and pants, and I assumed that like last year they would come and go after 15 minutes. Much to my surprise, when I returned from training the yellow belts an hour and a half later (we had to use a different hall because we couldn't fit everybody in the main hall), all of the staff were still there! And what's more, they promised to come back the next day. The class over-ran by quite some margin, nobody wanted to stop, and as 16:30 rang on my watch, suddenly a man came to the door and inquisitively peered through. I asked him if he was a member of staff but he replied he was one of the parents of the girls coming to collect his daughter. When I asked him what he thought about his daughter doing karate, he thought about it and replied: "this is very good, for strength, for discipline, for self-defense", then promptly asked if he could join next time.
Now that I think of it, I believe that the turning point was our girls' first competition in December, where Tinashe Munemo, a fiesty 17 year of 6th Form from Nagle House, won the national title in Kumite (sparring). Suddenly, a sort of karate-fever took over her school, and Gerald was allocated two rather than one classes per week. Enthusiasm was such that one of the Catholic nuns of the school, Sister Sandra, decided to join the classes, thus showing her community that martial arts could be practised as part of a Christian lifestyle. One day, where Gerald could not attend class, Tinashe took over and captained the girls through their training; this is hardly surprising to me, for Tinashe is exactly the kind of girl who understand what martial arts is about and how much it will impact her and her peers' life. Although she is still a yellow belt, she shows the spirit of somebody who will go very far with karate.
I feel like we're stirred something big, and it's no longer only about us and our girls. We've brought the whole community of Nagle House together around karate. Who knows what we could do next?
- Ginie Servant, Chair of FairFight