The FairFight team landed in Harare to the warm welcome of the Zimbabwe Karate Union and Zimbabwean sunshine, before heading over to Marondera, the spiritual home of the FairFight project. Seeing Gerald, Madeline, Wallen and the other members of Marondera Karate Club again was an emotional moment – they had certainly not forgotten us anymore than us them, and it was as though the distance and the year that had gone by had vanished into the present where we found ourselves once again united in the same place and with the same purpose. This sense of continuity was all the stronger the minute we returned to Nagle House, the starting point of FairFight, and the school where Gerald upheld his training after our departure last year. Kalvin, the deputy Head of Sports, welcomed us once again with open arms, and after a ritual exchange of T Shirts, we were reunited with our girls.
There were some familiar faces among the girls that showed up with their yellow belts and yellow stripes, but sadly, many of the girls we had begun with last year had left, and new ones had taken their place. When I asked Gerald about this, he told us that in some unfortunate cases, the parents put pressure on the girls to quit karate. He did not suggest why that might be, but after we completed a series of interviews in and around Marondera, it became apparent that we still have a lot of work to do before we win over the hearts and minds of the entire community, as many believe that martial arts is only about fighting and causing trouble and don't yet see its empowering potential for girls. As with all positive changes, these things take a long time, and with the full support of Gerald and his team, we are able to give it the time it needs. It’s a good sign that some girls came to us after class to ask if their friends, cousins, aunts and so forth could join the class. In addition, we have the privilege of having what is probably the first karate-practising catholic nun in Zimbabwe: Sister Sandra. We hope that her example will encourage young girls to take the plunge and start martial arts.
In terms of the actual classes, most of our lessons have been led by Senseis Gerald and Mark, with a rotation of instructors throughout the class based on their various strengths and disciplinary advantages – Emma taking over kicking practice and Floris supervising self-defense exercises, while Ginie has been teaching the yellow belts the Shitoryu kata Pinan Nidan for their orange belt exams. To close off the week, we returned to Monte Cassino, where we taught last year as well. After a very energized double-class in a packed school hall with the entire school (nearly 400 girls!!), the director of sports of the school was so happy that he has proposed to hire Gerald to teach the school on an ongoing basis, including transporting him from Marondera to Macheke. The difficulty of access of Monte Cassino was the primary blockage to a long term partnership with them, so with this issue resolved, we hope to count Monte Cassino among the FairFight schools of Mashonaland!
Emma's return to marondera
"Returning to Zimbabwe has been quite an amazing experience for me. First of all, it brought back all the memories from last year – it seemed like we had never left. Returning to Marondera, to Peterhouse, to Nagle House; it felt like I was coming home in a sense, as it all came very natural. Seeing Gerald, Wallen and Madeline again; training with Marondera Karate Club and preparing to train with the girls felt very good. The FairFight team has grown now and Pearla, Mark and Floris are as motivated we were last year, maybe even more! I must admit that I was a bit scared of going back to Zimbabwe. Leaving with a new group of people, teaching a new group of girls and putting it all together to make it as great as it was last year were some of the things that were on my mind before leaving. I have to say that everything turned out to be really great! We have a great atmosphere within our group and everyone is motivated and inspired by what we’re all doing. Coming back to Nagle House to see the girls that have been training with Gerald for a year was a great inspiration for me. They all had grown so much, wearing different coloured belts and looking even more motivated than last year. The new girls were just same; seeing the smiles appear on their faces during training, hearing their loud kihaps while kicking and punching – it was amazing o be able to witness that again! Yesterday we went to Monte Cassino, one of the schools we visited last year. The headmaster had told the entire school (over four hundred girls!) to join our training. This is only the end of the first week and I can’t wait for what is yet to come."
- Emma Bouterse, Secretary of FairFight
Pearla's first time in ZImbabwe
"I've been in Zimbabwe for a week now, and it feels like it has only been a few days. In a packed first week in Africa, I've been to play with the sweetest kids I've met in a local orphanage, and I learnt how to cook Sadza that we then went to serve at an old age home, where I had the opportunity to enter very interesting conversation where I learned a lot. I also experienced the everyday activities of buying fruit on the Marondera streets and riding the Zimbabwean dirt streets. Just as I'm slowly getting used to the bumpy rhythm of the car, I've grown to like the very sudden monsoon-like surprise showers of rain, whether I'm outside teachings karate or in the car at night. What will also stick with me is the people of Zimbabwe, who have been incredibly welcoming. Thank you! I could sum up my first week in one simple word, "happiness": happiness when I hear the laughter of my karate students, happiness when I see their excitement while giving a kick, a punch and a kiai. Most of all, happiness when I realize that what I was hoping to achieve by coming here is actually happening! I packed my bags with dreams of empowering young girls to believe in themselves and teaching them the tools to feel safe and defend themselves if needed, and the feedback has been uplifting. Several times the girls came up to me after class, telling me how awesome they thought I was, asking me to keep it up and come back quickly to teach them more, hugging and thanking me. Every time, I hug them and tell them that they can fly kick like I do to, they can punch and scream even louder than me, and they can easily be the kick-ass girl they think they see in me. So yes, I am happy, very happy with the mission and the trip up until now."
- Pearla Papiernik, FairFight Zim 2016 volunteer.