During this week, I attended my third The Child is Innocent (TCII) fundraiser in Boston courtesy of one its co-founders – Kevin Schwartz, MD of Massachusetts General Hospital. I was introduced to this non-governmental organization by Stefano Rossi of the Centro per la Cooperazione Internazionale in Trento, Italy and have found it a good way to stay connected to the people and well-wishers of Uganda. Kevin and his team at TCII are planning to build a new school campus called Hope Academy in Gulu, Northern Uganda in three phases. The detailed architectural plans were on display at the event to encourage others to donate and get involved.
Hope Academy: Vision and Master Plan, The Child is Innocent Photo credit: T. Mohammed, 2019.
What impressed me about this organization was its core group of volunteers and dedicated supporters. They are committed to the TCII mission and travel frequently to Northern Uganda to meet with local staff to be proactive with decision-making and fundraising. Perhaps one area they could improve upon relative to other NGOs I have worked with is on the concept of “radical transparency.” Attending a fundraiser in Boston with little knowledge of the issues on the ground in Northern Uganda, I can understand how some observers might feel skeptical as to how funding might be mismanaged. This is not a criticism of TCII but of many charities around the world. Therefore making budgets, financial statements and fundraising transparent and available to everyone via the Internet might garner even more support and goodwill for TCII and other similar charities.
Hope Academy Architecture, The Child is Innocent Fundraiser, Photo credit: T.Mohammed, 2019.
In the spirit of transparency and collaboration, the front cover of both the printed and online version of this blog are of a group of African HIV orphans who I had the privilege of coaching and refereeing more than fifteen years ago in a suburb of Kampala, Uganda. Though not part of my official United Nations Volunteerterms of reference (TOR), it was a very signifiant experience in my personal growth and development. Hence, I would like to acknowledge Stefano Rossi of the Centro per la Cooperazione Internazionale in Trento, Italy, who along with several Italian and Irish volunteers in Uganda invited me to the orphanage in Uganda on a weekly basis. This coaching experience became one of my many inspirations in the field of sport for development and peace.
My Bowdoin 20th class reunion will be held in May/June 2019 and as such I’ve been reconnecting with staff, students and alumni at my alma mater. Any former government and legal studies majors and the general public may learn from a Distinguished Lecturer in Government Bradely Babson’s course “The Two Koreas and Geopolitics of Northeast Asia,” class podcast held back in May 2018, by current Bowdoin students Tim Ahn ’19 and Sam Jablonski ’18 on the role of sports diplomacy in the Koreas.
The recommendations set forth by researchers from George Mason University Center for Sport Management are based on the assumption that the “intent of sports diplomacy programs is to create meaningful change in local communities.” Though the costs of sports diplomacy can be expensive and time consuming, I tend to agree with the GMU researchers’ recommendations, since in my own small way I have lived as a volunteer, coach and administrator to play a role in fulfilling the intent of sports diplomacy.
Ever since I can remember I’ve always been a kinesthetic learner which is perhaps why I ended up completing my graduate degree in Physical Education. I missed out on having an older brother as a kid, but I am super proud of John “Jay” Morrison, my elder brother-in-law who completed the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon recently in over 4 and half hours. Respect to anyone who completes the 26.2 miles of a marathon.
John “Jay” Morrison, my brother-in-law completing the 2018 New York City Marathon. Photo credit: P. Mohammed, 2018.
While I am yet to run a marathon myself, the preparation and training before to qualify and compete in a marathon is not only a physical but mental challenge. Jay was a recreational ice-hockey player in his youth and became a fan as a season ticket holder of the men’s ice hockey program at University of Denver (his alma mater). He is also a golf and skiing enthusiast. His interest in athletics did not stop him from staying physically fit and maintaining a balanced diet (which he learned how to do as an award-winning chef). Currently, Jay is leading a busy life in the food distribution business, but he still finds time to keep fit even though he recently turned fifty!
Miriam (my sister) and Meena and Anjali (my nieces) cheering on Jay at the New York City Marathon. Photo credit. P. Mohammed, 2018.
What can we all learn from my brother-in-law Jay? Well, he is a great example of an American male who is aging well by staying physically and mentally active. Jay did not specialize in sport but is a well-rounded athlete who is sharing his sporting lessons with his young daughters and wife. Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from Jay is to keep on moving and learning new things. Whether you are in third grade or a senior citizen, maintaining physical and mental fitness throughout one’s lifespan is worth it!
This blog post aims to (a) illustrate my why in sports for development and peace and (b) not to dwell on my past but to live in the moment, not after the moment as much as possible. I write from Abu Dhabi International Airport in the United Arab Emirates, en route to India to spend time with my elderly grandparents in Kerala. Abu Dhabi is a place I have fond memories from my childhood. The Al Khubairat Community School (now known as the British School of Al-Khubairat – BSAK – which is celebrating its 50th golden Anniversary this year) is where I attended elementary school and participated in my first sports day.
Lee (a Scottish classmate) and myself at the Al Khubairat School Sports Day, Abu Dhabi, 1980s.
I don’t know exactly how old I was in the photo above but it represents the beginning of my athletic journey. I always enjoyed my PE classes and the teachers who led us from from primary to higher education. I don’t remember all the details and lessons plans that our teachers used but they used a constructivist approach to help us progress through various stages of physical and psychosocial development. Even though I am not currently a parent, I have a greater appreciation of the role of teachers at different stages of a person’s lifespan and how they can influence a person’s health and wellness trajectory.
Ooty Track and Field Trip with Mr. Sither, 1990s.
My onward flight is to Kerala which reminds me of trips to Kodaikanal International School. The above photo was taken from my first first field trip to participate in Inter School Sports for The English Speaking Schools of the Nilgiris in 1989. Mr. Sither (retd. PE teacher) was our chaperone and is a teacher who had a positive influence on my athletic development. Besides my PE teachers, my fellow competitors like Lee in Abu Dhabi and student-athletes in the Nilgiris and elsewhere, all motivated to aim for self-improvement in sport and life. I feel like my travels, has me running to stand still.
In North America and Western Europe, media outlets, independent journalists and bloggers often display photos of children, adolescents and young adults in the developing world who are engaged in sport for development and peace activities. The motives behind such photos often vary from portraying a positive image of the media outlet to indirect fundraising for donor organizations. How do the subjects, or more specifically persons in the photographs benefit? This question prompted me to self-reflect about how to apply learnings from participating in international competitions, sport tournaments and conferences.
During the mid 1990s, as a high school student in the United Arab Emirates, a group of classmates from the International School of Choueifat Sharjah in the science stream asked me (an arts student) if I wanted to participate in an advertising competition with a chance to win a free trip to Paris, France. Without much thought, I literally jumped at the idea. We were a group of expatriate children from India, Korea, Iran and Lebanon with aspirations of international travel who responded to an international competition, prior to the days of the fast-moving Internet world of today. The award-winning photos below, enabled 3 team members in the advertising competition to visit Paris, France.
Tariq Mohammed and Sanaz Dadfar participating in International Advertising Competition, Dubai, UAE. Photo credit: K. Blasetti, 1995.
More than 20 years later, one of the biggest challenges in the sport for development and peace movement has been to monetize or generate significant revenue from program activities to ensure financial sustainability. Different international development actors are motivated by either profits, donations or funding from government agencies which are affected by macro and microeconomic conditions. In my humble opinion, when there are competitions, tournaments and conferences to benefit the sport for development and peace sector, perhaps donor organizations enable the travel of the subjects or deserving person(s) in the photo(s) so that there is more direct interaction between donor and recipients to further the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
Tariq Mohammed and Sanaz Dadfar participating in International Advertising Competition, Dubai, UAE. Photo credit: K. Blasetti, 1995.
In the spirit of suggestions and solutions, a variety of settings come to mind for donors and recipients to interact directly. For example, a meet and greet with staff at the headquarters of a multinational sporting goods company, a lecture series at local university or a town hall meeting with the general public are just a sample of how the subjects of photos in the sport for development and peace sector can directly improve their social and economic prospects. This can be done once a year or once every four years depending on budgets of donor organizations. Given the tweeting and clicking of today’s world of short attention spans, photography is becoming a means to advertise, advocate and generate revenues.
It amazes me how my primary and secondary family members have influenced my explorations in sport for development and peace. When I was 11 years old, my cousin Rosanna Tharakan gave me a copy of the 1987 Pocket Edition of “Trivial Pursuit: Sport – The Authorized Game Book” by Guinness Books (as seen below). I still have the book in my possession today which has traveled with me from various places of residence. I rediscovered the book after cleaning out my basement. What is interesting about this book is that it can help teachers (which Rosanna and her husband happened to be) and coaches (of which I was trained to do) to be better at holding the attention of young student-athletes during practices and matches.
Quizzes: A coaching tool for young student-athletes.
One of the most challenging aspects of coaching for me was keeping my practices focused on skills development while motivating students to be a better version of themselves. I found that there were many in-between moments such as bus rides, sharing team meals and warm-ups, where I felt at a loss on how to maximize my time and energy for teachable moments. In other words, practices and matches can get boring fast for both student-athletes and coaches. Master teachers are always good at knowing what to say to a particular student at the right time. I have still have a long way to go before I reach the master coach level but in the spirit of coach education I thought this blog post would help coaches prepare for the upcoming squash season in New England, so here goes.
Many coaches have developed their own repertoires and are always looking to find new ways of delivering them. Quizzing student-athletes on sport or more broadly about current events at school, in the community or national and international news – during warm-ups or long bus rides may help create a dynamic team to go beyond the acts of practicing and playing to one of social action. For example, in recent months the NFL has given us a lot to consider about the safety of athletes, the roles of players and coaches with respect to national anthems and societal issues such as sexual harassment or gender-based violence. The above book and many others like it are great tools for coaches and teachers to foster team dialogues that may lead to improved performances during practices and matches, enhance team unity as well as create positive social development. Good luck coaches and student-athletes!
This post is not meant to relive my past or prolong my future. Much has been written in academic journals about the negative effects of specialization in youth sports and unrealistic expectations of players, coaches and parents. For example – increased injuries, parental abuse and corruption – all of which can vary, depending on a variety of factors ranging from location of events, league organizers to player participation. I am a firm believer in playing multiple youth sports and then choosing one to focus on in adult years. In my case, I played a variety of sports, one of which was swimming – which I enjoyed throughly thanks to competent coaches, good infrastructure and well-organized leagues.
Saudi Arabian Western Region Expatriate Swim League (WRESL) medals won by Tariq Mohammed 1988-89.
After winning a few swim meets for my age group and going on to break national swimming records, I went through a process of readjusting my expectations and hopes. My parents and coaches provided positive encouragement during my swimming years. I was guided by them to take an alternative route in my sport journey because I did not have the height or reach to compete as an elite swimmer. This was tough to hear for a 12 year old especially when my swimming times were good enough to compete at an international level. Nonetheless, I chose to listen to my coaches and parents who suggested I try a different sport. By turning my attention and focus to squash I was able to continue to enjoy the benefits of playing a sport while balancing my academics. I had the opportunity to play squash in college and the rest is history.
Swimming ribbons and awards won by Tariq Mohammed 1986-92.
I know 30 years later of switching from swimming to squash was a good decision. Both of these individual sports are also lifetime sports. If I were a parent of a young child or a practicing coach today, I would encourage student-athletes to make the right choice for the long run to avoid over-specialization. It can be a tedious and difficult process but if players, coaches and parents can arrive at an understanding where the best interest of the player is put first then they will be able to succeed in the long run. The “professionalization” of youth sports today, in terms of sponsorships, travel teams and increasing adult participation, make it more challenging for parents and their children to arrive at decisions that will benefit them for the long run. If you are a player, coach or parent in a similar predicament – I recommend start having the conversation – to help you arrive at the right decision.
Before I learned how to play squash, my Dad introduced me to tennis as a kid. Recently, my Dad, a tennis enthusiast, shared a link to an innovative sport technology product – Coach T. This simple design, but easy to use technological innovation has lots of potential. To learn more about this product, check out the video below from Yanni Peng, Founder of Coach T.
As a certified squash coach who taught squash novices and beginners at Phillips Academy Andover, Concord Academy and Commonwealth School to name a few, I think Coach T could be customized into Coach S (squash). This would not replace a traditional human coach, rather supplement on-court coaching time with portable technology that a student could use on his or her own time.
Today happens to be my Mom’s birthday and the month in which Mothers are celebrated, among other national and international awareness activities (such as Mental Health Awareness Month). To readers of my blog, I hope you have a few minutes to read this post.
I’ve made a couple of references to my parents on this blog largely because I know it is thanks to them and many others, that I am able to stay healthy, volunteer my time with causes I care about and explore new places and things.
The video above is a culmination of my journey in squash. I have enjoyed every moment of playing, coaching and volunteering in squash at various levels, as well as being a team member on winning and losing teams.
I plan to stay physically active with and without squash, as it definitely keeps me well and balanced. Thanks, Mom and Happy Birthday!
A concise, thorough and inspiring presentation, entitled “More Than A Game: Using Soccer to Create a Level Playing Field for Girls” was be led by Ben Sanders, Director of Programmes, Grassroot Soccer South Africa. Grassroot Soccer is an adolescent health organization that leverages the power of soccer to educate, inspire, and mobilize youth in developing countries to overcome their greatest health challenges, live healthier, more productive lives, and be agents for change in their communities.
The USAID Sport for Development M&E Learning Lab is a platform that allows USAID Missions, NGOs, academics, corporate partners and donors to identify and examine evaluation outcomes of programs that use sport to achieve development goals. Group members use this platform to share knowledge, identify best practices, and disseminate research outcomes. Through open information exchange and collaboration, the platform allows members to support the advancement of sport for development and peace programs globally.
Mr. Sanders and his colleagues also referenced a report and digital storytelling to share best practices and lessons learned from Grassroots Soccer. Both are highly recommended for additional reading and viewing. Overall, participating in the seminar was a cost-effective method of keeping up with one of the leading sport for development organizations in the world. Khelshala and others NGOs have a lot to learn from Grassroot Soccer.