Auf Wiedersehen Pet…Fun Direction in Germany
Those familiar with Project Fun Direction are aware we view the opportunity for sports participation as a crucial aspect of positive child development. Our focus on young girls living in disadvantaged areas aims to extend that basic opportunity to an age and gender cohort that is often inadvertently excluded. Encouraging young girls in the habit of attending a fun, weekly sports activity where they feel comfortable, opens up lots of further educational and developmental opportunities. Travel experiences and bonding time together to strengthen existing and new friendships are two such opportunities.
Our three day trip to the Osnabruck and Essen areas of Germany last week provided a fantastic opportunity for a unique experience for the 13 girls, 7 mothers and 1 Grandad ! I was extremely fortunate to successfully introduce myself to Bastian Kuhlmann in early 2015. Bastian runs the Kicking Girls project in Germany which runs football classes after school for over 4,000 girls aged 6-8 in disadvantaged parts of 60 German cities. Since we first spoke over 2 years ago, I have visited Bastian and Kicking Girls three times in Germany while he and his colleagues have visited Fun Direction twice in Dublin. We have shared lots of useful ideas but I was very keen to give our Irish girls and their mothers a unique opportunity to experience sport and school in another country. Travelling with a group of friends through sport is something many of us adults have fond memories of from our youth. We hope our girls and adults will cherish their memories of last week’s trip forever.
We stayed in a Youth Hostel holiday village near Alfsee lake. The girls enjoyed the available facilities including fussball, table tennis, playground and not least the junior karting track which proved to be a real hit ! All 13 girls earned their German driving licence despite a few minor detours off-track ! We spent Friday morning in the very welcoming school in Bevern under the care of principal Frau Scherbring. Our girls and parents were split into groups across 4 classrooms. Despite the apparent language barrier, we joined in circle time that included some counting games in German and English as well as English and German songs. Children in Germany begin learning some English words in the equivalent of 2nd class or around age 8. The Fun Direction girls were also surprised to see that German children don’t wear school uniforms ! The local Burgermeister (Mayor) of Essen-Bevern honoured us by coming to the school to watch the girls playing football. He welcomed Project Fun Direction to Germany and spoke about the particular need now for partnerships across Europe that address social needs and foster integration. Our girls left gifts of an Irish scenic calendar for the principal, Irish story books such as the Children of Lir and Tir na nOg in German for the class teachers and Irish pencils for the German girls.
We left the school in Bevern in the early afternoon and after a quick lunch when to the museum village in Cloppenburg where the girls were shown what life was like on a German farm 200 years ago. After seeing how wheat was cut, threshed and milled, the girls and adults then tried their hand at baking bread in an old style oven, enjoying the fruits or our labour later in the afternoon !
On Saturday, we visited the local historical city of Osnabruck which was celebrating it’s May festival. Having spent some time exploring the Saturday market, we then went for a tour of Osnabruck University where the Kicking Girls project is based. After lunch, Judith Blanc from Kicking Girls took the girls for a fun activity session in the University sports hall while the adults received a short presentation from Hannes Teetz, explaining how the Kicking Girls project operates. The girls were then presented with Kicking Girls t-shirts and medals as mementos of their trip, courtesy of the Laureus Foundation which sponsors the project.
We look forward to making our trip to Kicking Girls an annual event so that other girls and mothers who participate in Fun Direction will get the chance to bond around sport as they begin on the pathway towards a lifetime of participation and physical activity.
We owe sincere thanks to many people and organisations who were extremely helpful in raising the funds necessary for our trip. Those include the IFSC Inner City Trust, Smurfit Kappa, Flatpack Services, Peter Flood Flooring, Anthony Doyle (and staff of Sumitomo Mitsui Bank), Peter Mahon and Derek Tynan. We also need to thank all the people who generously sponsored the girls for our sponsored walk in Howth on May 1st. We couldn’t have provided this wonderful experience for girls on the project without the help of all these people !
We also owe a huge debt of gratitude to our friends in Kicking Girls – Bastian Kuhlmann, Hannes Teetz, Juliane Dellwisch and Judith Blanc who put a lot of time, thought and effort into planning the details and events, and were very kind hosts over the 3 days. Vielen Dank !