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Twende - Changing Lives Through Hockey

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The scene is a dirt-based hockey pitch on the outskirts of Das El Salaam in Tanzania. It is 4.30am and a handful of young women are running around the pitch as they warm-up for a training session. No two players look the same: some have shin-pads and trainers, others wear socks around their ankles but no protection. Some have very old sticks, others are clasping the latest model. Their playing kit is an array of colours and brand names.

As the session continues we see the players taking it in turns to run through one set of training ladders and a handful of cones. Equipment is limited, but later we see the coach sifting through bags of equipment that has been donated by hockey clubs from Europe, particularly Italy.

This is the Twende women’s hockey team and they were being filmed in the weeks leading up to the 2014 Hockey World League Round One for a documentary –called Twende! –which will be released in 2016. Most of the Tanzania national women’s team are part of the Twende club, the name means “Let’s Go”in Swahili and the club was formed to promote hockey to women and girls in Tanzania.

Coach to both Twende and the Tanzania national women’s team is Valentina Quaranta, and she arranged for a film crew from Italy to follow the squad throughout their preparations for HWL Round One. It is just one more trick in her box as she attempts the most daunting of challenges –to raise the standard of hockey in Tanzania so the national team can be competitive on the world stage and, at grass roots level, the sport is played across the country. The purpose of the film is to raise the profile of the team in both Tanzania and across the world, hopefully attracting sponsors and supporters in the process.

Although Quaranta would demur, it is largely through her drive and ambition that hockey in Tanzania is developing at a cracking pace, both at international and grassroots level. In a short two years, the women’s team entered the 2014 HWL Round One event for the first time ever, and a year later at the 2015 Africa Hockey Championships, both Tanzania men’s and women’s hockey teams entered the competition after undergoing some of the most intensive training the national players have experienced.

Since 2012, the African nation has really begun to embrace the sport, largely due to the drive and determination of a small band of coaches and staff led by Quaranta, an Italian national who came to the country while working for the NGO COPE. A former player and coach, she quickly realised that her skills and knowledge of hockey could be used to great effect for developing the sport and, through the sport, improve the lives of people in Tanzania.

The film highlights the importance of hockey to the girls at Twende club. One mother says: “I like my daughter to play hockey, if she is exercising then she is keeping off the streets, keeping away from the bad guys.”

But the film demonstrates more than the part that Twende is playing in improving the lot of these young women. Yes, playing sport is giving them self-confidence, health awareness and addressing a myriad of other issues, but it also highlights to western eyes, just how much we take for granted. Some of the players interviewed for the film show the camera crew around their homes. They show their accreditation passes for tournaments in Kampala and Kenya. A calendar with a picture of the young women in their national playing kit hangs on a wall and is a prized possession. And yet, these players, who are representing their country, live in one-room homes, where the whole family eats, lives and sleeps. They train at dawn for several hours before they go to school or go to work and they have minimal possessions.

As one mother says: “I understand that to be good, my daughter must train, but if she trains and plays all the time, how will she earn money. She needs money to eat and, to be able to train hard, she must eat.”Kidawa is one player who is combining everything as she pursues her dream of being an international. She trains every morning before working eight hours as a hairdresser. She looks after her children as she cuts hair and then leaves them in the care of the eldest children while she attends the evening training session.

One of the aims of the programme is to help the players develop careers around hockey. The idea is for the players to be trained as teachers or coaches so that when their playing career is over, they can give back to the game and make a living. For other players, representing your country at a sport guarantees you a career in one of the government services –the army, the police or as guards.

Quaranta first became involved fours years ago after she was persuaded to stay on in the country after her role with COPE ended. Now, hockey in Tanzania is flying. True, the men’s team registered only one win –against Botswana –at the 2015 African continental championships, while the women lost all of their matches but, as Quaranta says: “We learned a lot and some improvements have already been made.”Many of the challenges faced by the teams were logistical –finding funding for training, transport and accommodation were chief among these challenges.

Now the Tanzania Hockey Association is looking very much to the future as it prepares to send a team to the Junior African Olympic Qualifier, which will be played in Namibia in March this year. This is the first time Tanzania has fielded an U21 side. “Nowadays in Tanzania, there are new young players who didn’t know there was a sport called hockey until two years ago,”said Quaranta.

“Participation in this tournament will be a big step forward in the development of hockey among young people in Tanzania, it means the sport is spreading among the youth in this country.

It is not just at elite level that hockey is spreading in Tanzania. Through an initiative between Dutch club Rijswik and the Twende Hockey Club in Tanzania, the Twende Foundation has been created. This foundation aims to spread playing and coaching knowledge across the country and part of the programme includes cultural exchanges between the Netherlands and Tanzania. Quaranta explains: “Twende’s focus is to support the development of hockey in schools through training teachers and players and collecting hockey equipment and coaching material from Europe. It will also help support the national teams with high level coaching and help the Tanzania Hockey Foundation find sponsors.”

Meanwhile, in another demonstration of just how far youth development has already come in Tanzania, the first Schools Hockey Tournament took place in November in the capital city Dar Es Salaam. More than 200 youngsters took part in the event, representing seven primary schools and five secondary schools. Running parallel to the tournament was a coaching course, run by the Twende Foundation and attended by 18 school teachers and 30 young players. It’s aim was to give the potential coaches the basic tools necessary to coach school children and grassroots players in clubs.

Returning to the documentary, Quaranta is talking about the HWL tournament, which took place in Kenya. “Most of this team, 90 per cent of this team started playing four months ago. Many have not even played on a proper pitch. I see the amazement on their faces now when the television cameras and newspapers turn up to do a story on them. No-one knew the existence of this sport before, now women’s hockey is in the public eye.

“They train every day, they are regularly in the national papers, but everything is new to them. They will be going out of the country for the first time. This is a real life experience.”

Zuwena was one of the players who went to Nairobi for that first HWL Round One event. Becoming an international hockey player has completely changed her life. “Before I started playing hockey, my life was very different. After cooking dinner for the family I would go out on the streets. I was a bad girl. Now, I go to training from 5.30am until 11am. Then I cook for my family before going for a second training session. I hope I will get a job through hockey, maybe with the guards, the police or the army. But I will never leave hockey.”

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