By Chris Mazza:
After four very short months, my African adventure has officially come to an end. After concluding my work with the BNOC and saying goodbye to some incredible people, my family joined me for a Christmas trip around southern Africa. The last post included pictures and insight into the learn-to-swim project, as well as an initial game drive and a few other local experiences. This post will recap my work and social life in Botswana, as well as the adventure of a lifetime with my parents and sister.
The learn-to-swim project finished at the beginning of December, and I could not be happier with the results! In just six short weeks, our volunteer coaches and myself took young children that had never swam before and developed a strong base of fundamental swimming skills. Some of our athletes managed to progress quicker than others, and are able to successfully float and glide on their own! Those who were not able to reach this level were still able to learn and apply basic swimming skills such as kicking, basic flotation, water submersion and mobility, as well as confidence in and around a body of water. This project concluded with a wrap-up fun day, where parents/caregivers, teachers and members from the BNOC and BSSA were able to view the successful development of Botswana’s young athletes. The plan is now for these children to continue with more advanced swimming lessons as they progress through the Botswana Long Term Athlete Development (BLTAD) model.
The framework for this BLTAD model has been another primary objective for my time with the BNOC. Last week, I made the final edits to this extensive document (62 pages and over 13,000 words!), and am quite happy with how it has turned out. While LTAD frameworks around the world include many consistent elements, I managed to add a few new items based on research that I have conducted over the last few months. One major addition is the concept of long term nutritional development (LTND), and how its effective application can help with the development of athletes throughout their career. The development of this framework was a long process, but an enjoyable one nonetheless. My last week with the BNOC was also spent finalizing the project’s budget, and writing final reports. My time working with this organization has been extremely rewarding, as I have learned a lot about the sport industry, while developing my professional skills and understanding more about the career goals that I would like to pursue. I was also able to develop my personal values, while becoming good friends with my coworkers over the past three months.
The final weeks on my own in Botswana included saying goodbye (for now!) to the many incredible people that I have met and become close with during my time in the country. With the BNOC, I was treated to a going away dinner at the Bull and Bush (which has become the go-to location for food and drinks). Outside of work, it has been and will be tough to say goodbye to the amazing friends that I have made since arriving. I now have new friends from England, Germany, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa, the United States, Brazil and of course, Botswana! It will be exciting to keep in touch with everyone around the world!
Mid-December, my parents and sister joined me in Botswana, where we began our Christmas adventure. I was thrilled to take them on a tour of Gaborone, introducing them to my new friends, showing them where I worked, taking them to a few local markets, and joining them on their first combi ride (which admittedly made me laugh, and reminded me of the confusion that I felt during my first ride!).
After Botswana, we travelled to Zimbabwe and witnessed one of the most amazing natural landscapes that any of us had ever seen in Victoria Falls. While we did not join a group of wild tourists in swimming near the edge of the falls, we will surely keep the remarkable views fresh in our minds for years to come!
From Zimbabwe, it was a short plane ride to Kruger National Park in South Africa, where we spent four days (including Christmas day!) among lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, buffaloes, and many other incredible animals. One of the most exhilarating experiences of my life included an encounter with a pack of lion cubs, with one cub walking just two feet from my face!
Our trip concluded in Cape Town, where we toured the beautiful peninsula, touched the water at the Cape of Good Hope, and finished with a refreshing wine tour at the world-renowned Stellenbosch wineries.
Altogether, these past four months have provided me with some of the most incredible experiences of my entire life. I gained valuable professional knowledge and skills, while also developing my ability to adapt to a new work and social environment. I was honoured to have met and worked with an amazing group of people, and was thrilled to have spent the trip of a lifetime with my family. If I haven’t done enough to convince my new friends to visit me in Canada, I will surely have to return to Botswana in the not-so-distant future.
I am excited for the adventures that the upcoming Queen Elizabeth Scholars will experience, and will be sure to keep up-to-date on the further development of swimming in Botswana.
Cheers and Salan Sentle!