Connecting local responses around the world
It was raining outside when we were warmly welcomed in a big primary school of which’s entrance was filled with hand drawn hearts made by the young students.
On Friday the 7th of February, the Constellation was again invited for a SALT-visit – this time in a primary school in Antwerp, Belgium. Constellation members (Marlou De Rouw, April Foster, Jean-Louis Lamboray, Rituu B. Nanda, Phil Forth, Jan Somers, Joke D’haese, Manue Brick and Laurie Khorchi) as well as Constellation friends (Michael Somers, Raymond Hutubessy and myself) had the chance to meet with Ronald Wolfs and Mark Bogaerts.
Ronald Wolfs (also known as ‘coach Ron’) is a basketball coach at the Wolf Pack Basketball Academy of Antwerp and Mark Bogaerts works at the municipality of Antwerp in the ‘neighborhoods sport’ section. Both men have been working together for a while on a project which mainly consists of supporting socially vulnerable youngsters from different backgrounds and nationalities. Ron and Mark work on this project in many primary schools in different deprived neighborhoods in Antwerp and they use sports – especially basketball – to carry it out.
After we arrived at the school, we all settled in a cozy and colorful classroom. There, Ronald and Mark had the opportunity to introduce themselves and to explain their project. We also got to briefly meet the director of the school and two of the school’s basketball coaches – all very nice and hospitable people. However, the real effort began when we got to bond with the primary kids.
We had been sitting on the nostalgic school chairs for a while when Coach Ron suggested to skip to the action (learning). He led us to the school’s indoor basketball court where the Pro League basketball team (which is made off approximately fifteen girls and boys aged ten to twelve) had their weekly training. It was time for Constellation coaches and members to turn into basketball coaches and players. The young athletes were divided into five teams and two or three guests were put into each team.
Before the “three vs. three” matches began, the rules of the game had to be explained – Coach Ron did this with the help of the kids who all knew the rules impressively well. Next to the traditional basketball rules, many ‘fair-play’ rules were added: teams could earn points by obviously scoring but they could also lose points by for instance showing angry behavior, by blaming another member of your team for losing a match or by leaving out someone from your team.
When the matches began, some of us had a little trouble but eventually smiles were to be seen on everyone’s faces. These smiles showed the fun that everyone had of course but they also showed, within each player, the positive mindset and the respect for themselves, for others and for the material.
After the games, Constellation members gave feedback on the matches and on their teams, Jan Somers took the photos and then we headed back to our classroom. There we resumed our conversation and through the questions, the responses and the reactions a connection was felt. There was a reflection of thoughts like Jean-Louis pointed out. Ron’s and Mark’s returns were very inspirational and like Rituu said afterwards: “It gave us a lot to reflect on, how our way of thinking and working is similar”. Again smiles appeared on everyone’s faces; we were listening to each other, not only to the words but also the feeling of what was being conveyed.
While I was hearing these inspirational conversations I was learning a lot which was good since I was actually supposed to be at school. I find it fascinating how much work and love Ron and Mark put into their project and how they keep believing in what they’re doing despite the many setbacks. The approach Mark and Ron apply in their project is so successful because children apply it in their everyday life.
Something I’ve also learnt is to keep living in the moment in order to build your future. Living in the moment also comprehends being able to breathe properly – living a steady life without too much stress. For youngsters this is an important factor and especially for the vulnerable ones. Like Mark said, many of those kids come from families whose salaries are below the minimum.
Ron’s been playing basketball since he was himself a young boy and his passion for the sport has only increased. This is to be seen in his trainings which reflect the love for the sport. When Ron is connecting with the kids - care and respect come from both ways.