"‘I’m still buzzing from today – please thank Mike for setting this up. He is doing an amazing job with those kids’ (after attending a Rugby for Change session at a PRU with Mike Henderson, one of our Development Coaches)"
C4C in Israel bringing change with cricket and rugby
Feb 28, 2011
Cricket without Borders Project - Israel
Stage 3 – Feb. 2011
Written by Alex Bassan, Development Coach at Cricket for Change (C4C)
Danny picked me up on a (Danny Baker is Training Manager at C4C) cold early morning in February as we headed off to Luton to catch our flight to Israel. As we where going down the motorway, with Jay – Z keeping us company, we heard a noise coming from the rear of the car. As we pulled over onto the hard shoulder we soon realised Danny’s rear tyre had blown. As we stood waiting on the hard shoulder for the AA to arrive, we managed entertained ourselves through song.
Luckily, for me anyway, Andy Sellins (CEO at C4C) drove passed and picked me up but poor Danny (who had to wait for the AA) ended up having to take the train. As we turned up at Luton airport, we went through check in but there was no sign of Danny. We waited and waited. Our boarding gate was announced and as we started to make our way to the gate, we saw Danny running as fast he could. He finally made it. We all boarded the plane and made our way to Israel.
Upon arriving at Tel Aviv airport we then had a coach journey to the border of Gaza. As we drove to the border on a chilly night we drove past some lovely mountain views and what also seemed like some deserted places.
We made it to the wall. This is the wall that separates Israel and Palestine. As we drove up to it I was nervous and expected a long wait but we just drove straight through for 100yds upon where the driver could go no further. From here we were met by one of the ‘Beit Jala Lions’. The ‘Beit Jala Lions’ are the only rugby team in Israel. That night they showed us part of the town and introduced us to most of the team. The town of ‘Beit Jala’ was where we were staying. It was a small town in Palestine where everyone knew everyone.
The next morning Andy (Sellins) went through the itinerary, some of us would go off to ‘Sumoa’, a small town in Palestine, and the rest of us went with the ‘Beit Jala Lions’ to play some rugby. Adam Hall (C4C Development Manager), Andy Dalby – Welsh (C4C Director of Programmes) and Andy (Sellins)went to a school in ‘Sumoa’ to teach some children ‘Street20’. When they arrived they met with 30 kids most of which had never seen a cricket bat let alone knew what cricket was. As the guys began to teach the kids all about cricket and ‘Street20’,the weather started to close in. As the rain came down they carried on keeping in mind that next day these kids were going to go through the border to play other Israeli children for the very first time. A lot of work to do! They started with basic skills in bowling, batting and fielding and went through the rules of ‘Street20.
As Adam and the two Andy’s were working hard in Sumoa, Alex, Danny, Perry (Sophocleous, C4C Development Coach) and James Mapstone (from The 2nd Chance Project, a long time partner to C4C on this and other programmes) turned up at a training ground, in Beit Jala, in terrible weather, to coach the ‘Beit Jala Lions’. We all looked around at this beaten up old building trying to figure out where the training would be. After walking through doors the same size as my house we walked onto a brand new 3G full sized football pitch, the term don’t judge a book by its cover came to mind.
We started a warm up led by Mappy (aka ‘Machine Man’ and as James Mapstone of 2nd Chance Project) and then went into some small drills. We taught the ‘Lions’ in depth about rucking and mauling and also taught them some new warm ups and drills they could do. After this we decided to play them at a match. We played a small 7’s game with full contact and mixed teams.
We played for an hour or so and the time just seemed to fly by and we played with the heart and passion of ‘Lions’ but also at times stopping it to explain possibly where we could improve. After we finished the training they confirmed to us that they were going into a school the next day and would like us to come in and help them coach. This was the first time they would go into a school and coach and for us it would be a great experience as well.
After a long day of the aches and pains of feeling like we had all walked into a brick wall, we went back to our accommodation and relaxed.
The next day came and we got in a couple of taxi’s and made our way to Sumoa, on the way Adam explained what he done with kids the day before. He was telling us how they had never seen a cricket bat and didn’t know how to hit the ball or anything. He also said that the kids have never been out of Palestine through the border into Israel and that’s what they were going to do today. But before doing this we headed off to a High School in Beit Jala where we would teach over 60 kids a brand new sport; rugby.
We turned up at the school to over look into the playground where 100 different sized boys seemed to be playing one big game of ‘British Bulldog’. As the security guard took us down to the indoor sports hall we walked into a hall to see what appeared to be the equivalent of a full sized football pitch in it. As we spoke about what we were going to do with the ‘Beit Jala Lions’, the kids starting to come in so a few of us broke off to set up and the others explain what was going to be happening.
We started by showing them a small game of touch whilst the helpers from the ‘Beit Jala Lions’ team translated. We had set up 5 different drills for all the kids to try after which we split into two different groups, one would go outside and the other to stay inside. We then got everyone involved in a small game of ‘Touch Rugby’. Well, a small game of 15 a side!
After this we had another 40 kids come in to learn this new game we called rugby. We let the ‘Lions’ take over as head coaches with the new group and us as assistants, giving them feedback at the end. At the end of our time at the school in Beit Jala, it was clear that everyone (including ourselves) had learnt a lot about rugby and new ways to coach. We said thank you and goodbye to the school before heading off to Sumoa to meet the school with lots of new cricketers.
We got back into our taxis and made the hour long journey to Sumoa. On the way we discussed the enormity of what we were about to do. We were meeting kids who had just learnt cricket the day before and taking them through the border for the very first time into Israel. As we got to the school we saw 20 quite looking and very reserved kids standing, just looking at us.
We then got them active and within five minutes they had all changed and where chatting non stop. We waited for another school to arrive with 20 younger kids. As our bus arrived to take us across the border we all got on sitting and sat next to lots of children with a big smiley happy faces. During the 45 minute drive to the border there many conversations about why Barcelona were the best football team in the world.
As we approached the border we were greeted by heavily armed men and women. The kids got out and had to walk through the border whilst we waited on the bus. We sat on the bus for 45 minutes until we were approached by a stern faced looking woman who took our passports. After another 10 minutes we got ushered off the bus to go through a bag search area. At this stage we had been at the check point for over an hour. We had to unload all our kit, the stumps, bats and balls, everything after which some sniffer dogs were sent onto the bus to make a final check.
As we went through the bag check we waited the other side we were still being watched by everyone. The stern faced woman came out with our passports but this time she had a pleasant smile and said we could go through. We then had to wait for the kids to come through which who took another 20 minutes. We had been at the check point for just over an hour and a half and we were feeling tired but we knew there was still a job to do.
We drove on for 30 minutes and we arrived at a playground in Yeruham. As we arrived we met people from ‘Perez Centre for Peace’ who helped run the cricket project in Israel. When we arrived we had Jewish kids, Christian kids, Israelis and Palestinian kids all mixing together.
The guy running the evening was called, George, who was from Burnley (Lancashire) but now lived in Israel. He explained to the kids what was going to happen then he explained to us. They were split into 6 teams and each coach would have to look after a team but we would need two to umpire. So Danny and I chose to umpire. We started everything off by demonstrating a quick game of ‘Street20’, with C4C vs an Israel 11 or 15 or 20 by the end of our innings - I couldn’t keep count of how many players were on the court!
We scored a respectable 40 runs but the Israeli side won in the last over bowled by…..me! (Alex Bassan). Anyway after that match we got straight into the kids matches. It was good to see how the kids got on and what kids tried to take charge. But after a few hours of cricket, Danny ran the final on his pitch.
We did a presentation at the end with every kid getting a medal but the gold medal went to Perry’s (Sophocleous) team. After being given some food we left Yeruham at 7:30pm and made our trip back. We had to get through the border, drop the kids off and then get back to our hotel. When we got to the border, this time it took us no longer than 30 seconds to get through!
We got back dropped the kids off, exchanged a few email addresses and continued on our journey back. Everyone worked unbelievably hard that day and we were all very tired. We finally made it back to the door of our hotel at 22:00 where we all just crashed out.
The next day we had to ourselves as heavy rain meant we had to call off a rugby match which we were going to play against the ‘Lions’. So instead, we chose to go to Bethlehem, to see the birth place of Jesus Christ. This was a good experience for me, as I am not religious, but it was good to see how other people were affected by the power of the place.
On the last evening the ‘Lions’ invited us over to one of their homes for a BBQ where we had some fantastic food and refreshments - the best of the whole trip. We had a great evening listening to music and sharing our experiences.
Overall the experience of this trip was much better than I thought and which has changed me and hopefully upon the hundreds of kids we encountered in Palestine and Israel.