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Bowling AIDS Out of Africa

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The secretary of Haddenham Cricket Club, Jessica Clarke, went to Cameroon this month with the charity Cricket Without Boundaries, and helped to deliver important health messages about HIV and AIDS to around 2,500 children over two weeks.

Using cricket coaching as a way to break down barriers and engage children, the charity reinforces the ABC-T message that is taught in school: Abstinence, Be Faithful, use a Condom and Test (to know your status).

It was clear that this World Health Organisation message is well known by the children so, despite the language barrier (French being the main language spoken in Cameroon), the volunteers were able to have deeper conversations with the children around healthy behaviour and how to protect themselves and others from the virus.

It was also a lesson in how sport can work to build hope and unite communities.

Cricket development is in its earliest stages in the country, with the national team practising on a concrete school playground with only donated equipment and amazing raw talent to work with, but the passion and dedication shown by the local coaches (who work teaching cricket in schools all year round) is unparalleled.

The enthusiasm of the children, both boys and girls, primary pupils and older teenagers, was infectious and coaching groups of up to 300 children was a joy — but still left the team exhausted!

Most of the children in Cameroon have very little but that doesn't stop them. When the team cleared up their equipment, ready to take it to the next school, one boy was seen improvising with a plank of wood as a bat. Old tennis balls, donated by Haddenham Tennis Club, were used in training and left behind. A large number of balls were left at an orphanage visited by CWB, where the children have been robbed of their parents by AIDS or abandoned because their families simply cannot afford to feed them. It was an important reminder of the facilities we take for granted at home.

Having played only indoor cricket with Thame Town CC, Jessica earned her first international cap on the trip, representing the Commonwealth against Cameroon, but failed to make an impression on the scoreboard, being out for a 2-ball duck! Other team members did slightly better but the Cameroonian team won the match, which was played in a new football stadium at the foot of Mount Cameroon.

Jessica is very grateful for the support and donations received from members of Haddenham CC, Thame Town CC and Thame Hockey Club as well as from Bucks CB and other friends and family.

The charity is always looking for volunteers for future trips to Africa, and cricket knowledge and experience is not necessary — just an enthusiasm for sport and children, and a passion for eradicating HIV and AIDS.

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