Aug. 13, 2014
Sixteen Ghanian participants in the Youth Enrichment through Sports (YES)-Ghana program arrived in Bloomington in May, not sure what to expect. Some wondered how much they could really learn about developing recreational sports programs in only a few weeks. They wondered how what they absorbed would translate into positive change in their country. Others were concerned about America’s troubled racial history, wondering if they might encounter racism during their stay.
But by the program’s end, the participants said their experience could not have been more positive.
“It’s been fantastic,” said Babangida Ibrahim, 24, a teacher and coach from Cape Coast in southern Ghana. “From the start, I felt at home, meeting nice people and learning so many new things.”
Funded with a two-year grant from the U.S. Department of State (Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs), YES-Ghana was designed by IU faculty to educate and train Ghanaian adults involved with sports to create after-school recreational sports, health education and leadership development programs for high schoolers in rural Apewosika Township, near Cape Coast, Ghana. In 2013, program planners spent time in Ghana to assess the country’s recreational sports needs and to select participants.
Sarah Young, an associate professor in the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Studies in the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington and primary investigator for the grant, said the program’s central premise is that recreational sports is useful not only for promoting physical health, but also for creating opportunities in an informal setting to educate youth about the value of teamwork and leadership and the dangers of substance abuse and unsafe sex.
“The idea that sports can be recreational and not only about winning is new for Ghanaian educators and coaches,” Young said. “One of our main goals these past two weeks has been to get that notion across, and I think we succeeded. By the end of the program, the participants really began to see the value of using sports to teach about health generally.”
Young collaborated with IU colleagues Craig Ross of Recreation, Park and Tourism Studies; Cecilia Obeng of the Department of Applied Health Science; Debby Herbenick, a researcher at the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington and co-director of the IU Center for Sexual Health Promotion; and Samuel Obeng, director of the IU African Studies Program.
YES-Ghana participants’ days were packed with classwork and field trips, including visits to the Twin Lakes sports complex, the IU Tennis Center, Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Indianapolis, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and IU's Assembly Hall. Classwork included sessions on coaching sports, the theory and practice of recreational sports, substance abuse and sexual health, design and implementation of developmental games and designing play equipment.
For participant Charles Obimpeh, a 27-year-old sports coach and educator in Cape Coast, the concept of doing recreational sports for the sake of fun and fitness was eye-opening.
“I teach kids sports every day, but it never occurred to me to use sports to teach life lessons and skills like communication and team-building," Obimpeh said.
Salome Dodoo-Arhin, 31, an assistant lecturer at the University of Cape Coast, said she appreciated the opportunity to learn how to use recreational sports as an inroads to improving public health.
“In Ghana, when talking about things like sex and condom use, kids are typically told to just not have sex, which is not a very effective strategy,” Dodoo-Arhin said. “I think the blending of sports and health education will make it easier to talk about sexual health in a smarter, more useful way.”
Young said the sexual health sessions, led by Herbenick, were particularly lively, with participants asking the sorts of questions they knew Ghanaian youth would ask them when they return.
“There’s a pervasive myth in Ghana and elsewhere in Africa that having sex with a virgin can cure AIDS,” Young said. “Our participants already knew that’s not true, but they were glad to get research-based answers they can use to educate kids.”
YES-Ghana assistant program coordinator Matt Ostermeyer said for participants to use what they’ve learned at IU to make a difference in Ghana, it will require buy-in from their local schools, administrators and students. To that end, IU team members will return to Ghana in a few months and again in 2015 to assess how well the program’s goals have translated. Young and her colleagues also hope to use Facebook to communicate with the Ghanaian participants and to remotely evaluate the program’s effectiveness.
For now, though, Young said she is pleased by how well the session went. “After spending time with the group and getting to know them as individuals, their family backgrounds and daily challenges, I can say that the experience has been truly rewarding," she said. "I’m very excited about the next steps and anticipate great things happening back in Ghana.”