“I feel that everything I do is very well received in the community, as I get a lot of positive feedback.”
Lars is in Darling as a weltwärts volunteer for one year and supports PlayHandball’s partner organization “Darling Outreach Foundation” on site. The Darling Outreach Foundation’s mission is to create educational opportunities and help improve the physical well-being of vulnerable children. In the following interview, our volunteer Lars talks about his experience after the first two months:
PLAY HANDBALL: Why is handball important for you and what has it done for you?
Lars: When I played handball for the first time six years ago, I never thought it would change my life like this. I fell in love with the sport right away. But it’s not just playing handball itself that makes the sport great – it’s the whole handball community. Playing on a team where everyone supports each other and everyone is there for each other is one of the best feelings. You come to practice or play a match, forget about all your other problems, and only have handball on your mind. Besides playing itselfs, however, handball also gave me the job of coaching young, motivated junior players, which ultimately brought me to South Africa for a year. It’s just incredible to see the joy on the kids’ faces when they learn something new, have a sense of achievement or just have fun playing handball.
PLAY HANDBALL: How did you heard about PLAY HANDBALL ZA?
Lars: I have to say, I haven’t known PlayHandball for that long and I only became aware of the organization during my search for a volunteer service. When it was clear to me that I wanted to go abroad, I looked at all kinds of projects at weltwaerts and finally came across PlayHandball. I quickly realized that this prject was the right one for me.
PLAY HANDBALL: Why did you decided to become a Handball Volunteer in South Africa?
Lars: After I started my sport studies last year, I realized very quickly that I am not ready to study for three years. Basically, I decided to volunteer because I wanted to have this unique experience of spending a year in a new culture, with a new language, with new traditions and also a new daily life. When I then found out that I could combine this with my passion, the plan was of course perfect. For me, handball is simply a way to get in touch with new people, to exchange ideas and learn from each other.
PLAY HANDBALL: How long have you been now a handball volunteer in South Africa?
Lars: I have been a volunteer in South Africa for over two months now.
PLAY HANDBALL: What was the most memorable experience?
Lars: In the early days, there wasn’t “the one” situation that stuck in my mind. It’s just always little nice moments that you remember again. One example is when I was on my way to the store and met a little kid from school, with whom I then walked back together and had a long chat. Or one day at the Darling Outreach Foundation, all the kids were having so much fun pronouncing the German word “eyebrow” that we just sat there, saying the word over and over and laughing. For me, it’s mostly these little moments that I always remember fondly.
PLAY HANDBALL: What was the greatest challenge until now?
Lars: The biggest challenge I have so far is actually remembering the names and faces of people I meet new. Of course, this doesn’t apply to the people I see every day or very often, but I’ve often had the situation where I was approached by someone who knew me, but unfortunately, I couldn’t remember the person. Then you’re always wondering if you should ask for the name or just pretend that you still know the person. A second thing that I have problems with from time to time is the situation that the students/children/players sometimes don’t feel like joining in, or just do everything but listen. Especially when there is no teacher around, it’s really hard for me to get the kids to join in again. If you have children who don’t understand everything in English, it’s even more difficult.
PLAY HANDBALL: How do you experience the handball coaching at school/ community?
Lars: Before I left, I thought a lot about the handball project: How will handball be received in South Africa? How will I be respected as a coach? To what extent can a “real” handball training take place? And of course, many things turned out differently than expected. Not even in a negative sense, rather the opposite – some things are already working out really well. The most important thing first: almost all children always have a lot of fun during handball training. Even though I only have 30 minutes with a class at the schools, it’s still possible to do a few drills and games. Also, the language barriers are not really a problem. Most of the children understand me really well and even if something is not understood, I always get help and it is simply translated into Afrikaans. Of course, the difference in performance is often noticeable and you always have to make sure that everyone is well integrated into the training. It always makes me very happy when I see that they play as a team and that everyone is able to play. Of course, things don’t always go perfectly – there are always students who don’t feel like playing or who would rather play soccer. Often the classes arrive too late, so that you only have 20 minutes left. But even then, you just have to improvise a bit and you can really achieve a lot in a short time
PLAY HANDBALL: How has your work had an impact on you and in the community?
Lars: The work I do has a very positive effect on me. Every handball session helps me to develop personally and I learn a lot in my role as a handball coach. It was a very unusual situation for me to teach a group a sport that is new to them in another language, but this challenge helps me a lot to leave my comfort zone and try new things. I also feel that everything I do is very well received in the community, as I get a lot of positive feedback. Especially the fact that many kids feel like coming back to handball practice every week shows me that my work is also appreciated and everyone wants to be a part of it. I am also asked again and again, whether by teachers, other schools or even children, if I can also play handball with them, which always gives me great pleasure and motivates me even more to spread the project further.
PLAY HANDBALL: How is the life with a local South African host family?
Lars: From the beginning, I was very warmly welcomed into the family and treated well. I was integrated directly into the family and after a very short time I no longer felt like I was in a foreign country or surrounded by foreign people. Here at home, I am provided with everything I need, I get a lot of attention, but I also have my freedoms. I can talk to everyone about everything and immediately help is offered from every side. In addition, I experience life in the host family as very sociable. my family is not limited to my host mother, with whom I live, but every day others come to visit and if I’m ever bored, I can go to other homes at any time and just sit there and talk with people.
PLAY HANDBALL: Any other comments or sentiments you’d like to share
Lars: I am very grateful to have the chance to support such a project and to be able to make this journey – I enjoy every moment I experience here. Before I started volunteering, I couldn’t imagine how much joy you can get from so many little moments and how nice and also important it is to get in touch with so many new people and share your experiences. Even if everything doesn’t always go perfectly and you also have times when things aren’t going so well, it is a unique experience to get to know a new culture and a new country in this way. I am looking forward to the coming months!