University of Cincinnati students in Onamunhama, Namibia

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For those of you considering going to Africa, I recommend it. In fact, I highly recommend going on a Courts For Kids trip to Africa. Myself, and my 12 trips mates had an experience of a lifetime that cannot truly be explained in a blog or even in person. I will do my best but I promise you that having your own adventure is a thousand times better.

Our adventure started on December 29th at 2:30am with an email from our fearless trip leader, Tori Groene. A straightforward message saying “The flight from Cincinnati to Chicago has been cancelled. Please stick to our original time and meet at CVG at 5:00am.” No better way to start a trip, if you ask me.

Immediately, doubt crept its way in to each of our already anxious minds about traveling half way around the world to serve foreigners in an unknown land. Even so, all 11 University of Cincinnati students poured into the airport with enough luggage to last a lifetime.

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Favor started on our sides as the cancelled flight was only a false alarm and we lifted off with determination to tackle our 13-day journey to and from Namibia. Boy, how the tides turned quickly. Chicago was a madhouse. Seas of exhausted families were lined up from door to door trying to return home after the holidays. We maneuvered through the crowds only to find that our flight had been delayed by 3 hours.

We arrived in Washington DC just in the nick-of-time to see our overnight flight to Johannesburg leaving the terminal. If doubt hadn’t settled in before, at this point, not one person could say with 100% confidence that we would make it to Namibia in time. Key words being “in time” as we had a pocketful of boarding passes with our names on them and community counting on us to help them build a court.

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After a lap or two in the DC airport, the cloudy skies parted and there stood Melissa with her navy blue uniform behind the grey and gloomy United counter.  Melissa worked her tail off for 6 hours trying to get us back in route. She managed to provide us with a van and hugged us goodbye as our driver pulled up to deliver us to New York.

Spirits were bent but never broken as we united with Selene and our new Washington State friend, Kat. Together we breathed a sigh of relief and punched our ticket to Africa.

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Day one in Windhoek, Namibia also happened to be New Years Eve, as ringing in 2016 consisted of a language lesson from Johanna and an early nights sleep. We were also introduced to our new favorite driver, Petrus and his van….. Even though everyone was exhausted from the travels, a sense of awe could still be felt between the 13 of us. I mean, how often does someone get to experience Namibia, Africa? All the doubt, worry, and anticipation finally turned into pure excitement and wonder.

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Day two we were onward to Onamunhama which came with a flat tire, Laith’s love for international KFC, and the introduction to riddles. Lots and lots of riddles. Being in the van all day, we truly got to experience to the vast openness of Namibia. 360 degrees around you could see as far as your eyes let you with baboons, warthogs, and termite mounds making their frequent appearances.

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Day three we made it! Onamunhama never felt so good. I don’t think any group of people were as excited to unpack their bags knowing we could finally settle in and make ourselves at home. We were welcomed by a posse of PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) with whom we shared our time with in Onamunhama. That afternoon, we finally pulled out the shovels and wheelbarrows and got to work on the sports court. And for those wondering…Yes. Africa is extremely hot.

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Day four, five, and six was spent living, working, and experiencing Onamunhama like a local. There was no shortage of meat, porridge, or sandy spinach for lunch and dinner. It only took one or two meals to get use to eating with our hands while gnawing at every edible part of the chicken down to the bone. Bucket baths under the stars became the most refreshing part of the day and something everyone looked forward to. The most common phrase was always “Wah la le po” which would instantly bring a smile to any local’s face. In between working on the court, time was spent kicking a soccer ball around, playing tic-tac-toe in the sand, receiving a new hair style, or completing the daily Courts for Kids challenges. We even got to experience parts of the Namibian lifestyle outside the sports court by racing through a community scavenger hunt and spending an evening at a local families camp. Not to mention, we worked alongside community members each day trying to complete the court in the limited time we had. We had our fair share of setbacks with weather, lack of materials, and sheds being built but each day we woke up with a sore back, a positive attitude, and a willingness to work in the heat.

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Day seven was the last spent in Onamunhama village. The opening ceremony for the court was not what everyone initially envisioned but even so, the community leaders and members were extremely grateful and appreciative of what we had accomplished together. The leaders laid out a plan to get the court finished which is the ultimate goal and all 13 of us left our last words of encouragement for the community. Sure, we all would have loved to finish the court while present but not one person was defeated as we had done everything in our power to help. When you step into a new community some things like “Africa time” are simply out of your control.

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Day eight was quite the treat and an experience nobody will forget. On our way back to Windhoek we stopped at Etosha National Park to hang out with the zebras and giraffes. We were spoiled enough to stay at a hotel to relax and recover from the tough work week and experience something unlike anything in the States. A one minute walk to a watering hole showed lions, rhinos, springbok, and more. Two game drives took us through Etosha as we tracked animals around the safari. We spent our final days hanging out as one ‘NAMily.’

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Day nine and ten, we arrived back at the Windhoek airport to head home. Everyone was full of mixed feelings as we already missed each other and being in Namibia.

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Regardless of how much is told or written about our experience in Namibia, you’ll never really know what it is like to be in there until you go. Our Courts for Kids trip to is unique to our group and we wouldn’t change anything about it. The struggles or setbacks we had is what brought us together so quickly and what made the smooth times so fun. We spent 13 straight days, 24 hours a day, with each other and loved every minute of it, even when we all smelled. That is not normal for a group of college students who spent winter break with people they only met in the airport. I think that is what makes Courts for Kids so special and such an unforgettable experience. Onamunhama Village, Courts for Kids, and my ‘Nam-Fam’ will forever have a special place in my heart.

– Jacob Hood, Courts for Kids & Serve Beyond Cincinnati Volunteer

Check out this video of our trip!

“Stereotypes I had prior to the trip were that the community we were visiting would be very poor, leading the people to be unhappy.  Contrary to my expectation, the Namibian definition of rich is one far from ours.  While to us being rich may entail a nice house and fast car, people in Namibia were content with living in homesteads, as long as their health was well and their family was happy.” – Laith Shehadeh

“This trip has taught me to be patient and content with going with the flow.  This trip has showed me the beauty in just stopping a taking everything in, in contrast to my particularly busy lifestyle.  This trip has also re-reminded me that everyone is equal and deserves to be treated with the utmost respect and kindness.” – Tori Groene

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“Going into this trip I thought that the differences between cultures was going to shock [me] but it turned out that the similarities are what shocked me.  There are so many things they do that we do too.  They may live a little simpler than we do but the differences do not outweigh the similarities in my opinion.” – Libby Allison

“What I learned from the community was the feeling a true sense of community.  Back in the US I’d be looked at as crazy if I were to wave to people on the side of the road, but in our community it was viewed as normal.  When working people would come greet us and speak to us as if we had known them for years, although we had just met.  What I learned from the community was an eternal sense of friendship and love between each and every community member, no matter how long they have known each other.” – Laith Shehadeh

“I find it amazing how we all live so differently yet are happy in similar ways.  And I think that is a beautiful thing.  This trip has taught me about what a beautiful world we live in.” – Lindsey Keefe

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