Monday, December 23, 2013

Mozambique - A dream that has come true

What to do to get orienteering to these people? When they have so little to live on, how to make them feel happy picking up a map and a compass and going into the forest searching for controls?” What began as a brief whisper in the soul quickly became a deafening scream. Dreams can come true and, in the most intimate of those of José Samper, the dream of orienteering in Mozambique had been born.

The promise of another burning day came with the first rays of sun on the hot and red land. At 6 o’clock in the morning many were those who took the opportunity to escape the heat, enjoying the soft freshness of the Antonio Repinga Park in Maputo for the usual jogging session. A person runs pass another and shouts “Are you Bulgarian?” The belt he had, where “I Love Orienteering” was written in Bulgarian, had apparently given him away. “No, I’m Spanish but I’ve run in Bulgaria”, he replied. “I studied Physical Education in Bulgaria”, said the first one, as he walked away. About ten minutes later, not more, the twists of fate were such that the two men would run pass each other again, picking up the conversation: “You know, I am the Minister of Education and Sport in Mozambique. I would enjoy talking to you in my office. Can you meet me there at 10 a.m.?”

That was early in 2001, and José Samper had been in Mozambique for only four months. He had said goodbye to his military career and started to manage the technical direction of the Spanish Grouping of Orienteering Clubs (precursor of the Spanish Orienteering Federation), but his presence in Mozambique had nothing to do with sport or orienteering in particular. Nevertheless, the agricultural cooperation project he was involved in didn’t stop him from looking around and wondering what to do to get orienteering to these people. How to make them, having so little to live on, feel happy picking up a map and a compass and going into the forest searching for controls, was an unanswered question in the third poorest country in the world. And now the answer and the opportunity were there; Samper could read that in the eyes of Joel Libombo, another “crazy one” in this “crazy world” which is sport.

Commitment to sports cooperation

This implausible encounter and the conversation that followed at Minister Libombo’s office was the seed that germinated and brought its first fruit in 2004. The first ever sporting cooperation with a foreign entity in the history of Mozambican sport took place that year, in this case with the Spanish Orienteering Federation. But between the first contact and that historic date there was a long and arduous journey characterised by patience, dedication and love to orienteering and to Mozambique.

When, on July 27th 2004, José Samper arrived once again in the Maputo International Airport in order to collaborate on the final push to the foundation of the Mozambican Orienteering Federation, he was looking back at two and a half years of hard work: the classes on Friday afternoons at Polana College for the Mozambican Scouts, the adventure of drawing the map of Xefina’s Island including a shipwreck, the orienteering courses in the Antonio Repinga Park. Also the quiet and steady work of the Scouts’ National League of Mozambique, the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation and the Spanish Orienteer- ing Federation to get the Sports Superior Council of Spain and the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Mozambique to sign the first commitment of sports cooperation.

Maputo Town Orienteering Association

With the agreement achieved, it was time to take action on the ground. But soon there came a big setback. Whilst the collaboration of the Scouts’ National League of Mozambique was important from the beginning to the process of starting orienteering in that African country, the League eventually became a constraining factor in the evolution of the process itself, at least with respect to its original purposes. Unlike the League, that wanted to see orienteering restricted to its own members, Samper dreamed of a much broader project, a project in which everyone - schools, universities, clubs - had access to this sport on the same level. That would be a prerequisite for the creation of the Mozambican Orienteering Federation. Today we don’t know what would have been achieved if things had occurred as the Scouts’ League wanted – but development proceeded without it.

It was necessary to find a person who could lead the project, someone with knowledge of the sport and some experience in teaching, who had the necessary economic solvency, was young and ambitious but, above all, believed in the Orienteering Project in Mozambique. And so came the name of Arnaldo Junior Machevene; he, along with the “dissidents” of the Scouts’ National League of Mozambique, Neuso Sigauque , Nuno Cossa and Cardoso Olimpo, created on the 11th January 2004 the Maputo Town Orienteering Association (AOCM), an entity that would be officially recognised on 17th October 2007, as published in the Bulletin of the Republic of Mozambique.

From 2004 to 2007

The first steps of the new Association gave indications of great interest and ambition. On 24th April 2004 AOCM organised the first official event in Mozambique. The presence of a Mozambican athlete in the Latin Countries Cup in 2004 (Vila Real, Portugal) and in 2005 (Seville, Spain), as well as the participation of eight athletes in the International Tournament commemorating the 25th anniversary of the South African Orienteering Federation (February 2006), are distinctive landmarks in early Mozambican orienteering. In 2006 several orienteering events in Mozambique were organised, including the ‘1st Orienteering Clinic for Technicians Level 1’ which was attended by 30 participants, and a 15 km orienteering course on Catembe island which was attended by the CEO of Education of Mozambique and had TV coverage on Mozambican state television and the international TV channel of Portuguese television for Africa.

In early 2007 the legendary world champion Jörgen Mårtensson visited Maputo and prepared a competition in the Continuadores Park which was attended by 300 children. Mårtensson’s impression was overwhelmingly positive, and he committed himself to collaborating in organising and promoting an international event in Mozambique, which took place in November and featured the participation of a hundred Nordic athletes. But the year of 2007 was not only important for this and for the government’s recognition of the Maputo Town Orienteering Association. At its meeting in January, the IOF Council granted AOCM the status of provisional Associate Member, ratified in August of the following year at the IOF General Assembly in the Czech Republic.

A period of stagnation

But then the initial enthusiasm from the ‘1st Orienteering Clinic for Technicians Level 1’ started to fade away. The participants had been asked if they would work for two years teaching orienteering in schools, in religious or cultural centres, in neighbourhoods or wherever it was. They were also encouraged to develop the making of some elementary maps, and the Spanish Orienteering Federation, subsidised by the Sports Superior Council of Spain, offered a laptop computer with the OCAD program installed.

Growth in the following years was unfortunately close to zero. The main cause of this had to do with the lack of proper resources, and there was no money available to pay those who had been asked to teach in schools. And the President of the Maputo Town Orienteering Association, Arnaldo Junior, then left Mozambique searching for a better future; this forced the reorganisation of the entire project.

Historical presence at the World School Sports Championships

We move forward in time to 2013, to see Mozambican orienteering rise out of the limbo into which it had fallen thanks to the presence of four students from the Casa do Gaiato of Mozambique at the World School Sports Orienteering Championships, held in the Algarve, Portugal. The Spanish Orienteering Federation had given its full support to this initiative, while the financial and logistical framework had the precious collaboration of the Mozambique Sur Foundation, a non-governmental organisation based in Madrid, along with lots of Spanish orienteers who had come together to guarantee this historical presence.

Although the Mozambican participation was unofficial - Mozambique is not a member of the International School Sport Federation – the four students Vasco João, Alexander Samuel Mungambe, Edgar Mário Felisberto and Joaquim Teresa Massinga had an extraordinary presence, put their ‘soul’ into all the activities, gave everything they had and were also true stars in this World Championships themselves. Able to withstand intensive training for a week beforehand from early morning until sunset, and in cold and rainy conditions, the “four musketeers” left the training camp well prepared for completing their courses in a dignified way. They competed unequally, of course, with athletes who had prepared for this competition for three or four years and participated in dozens of competitions to get there. But they managed to reach their goals to the full and were proud of their efforts and achievements.

Projects for the future

Although the Maputo Town Orienteering Association is active again – the Association’s Technical Director, Nuno Cossa, participated in this year’s O-Ringen Clinic in Sweden – the current development of orienteering in Mozambique is based mainly on the work of the Casa do Gaiato of Mozambique under the leadership of José Samper. For this purpose, José moves for one month per year from Spain to Mozambique, and hosts in Spain some people from the Mozambican school over a similar period. In Casa do Gaiato the work is directed and coordinated by Raúl Canovas, a Spanish volunteer coach and also, when availability allows, by the Austrian Gert Binder. It is work aimed towards two distinct groups, one with twelve youngsters born in 1998 and 1999 and the other with twenty youngsters born in 2000 and 2001. The technical training is often done using aerial photography, and this is one of their greatest needs. Volunteers are welcome cooperating as map-makers – the school will pay for the stay and accommodation, in the certainty that it will be an experience that will not easily be forgotten.

But Mozambican orienteering needs more than map-makers to help it grow and develop. This is a project that should “speak to the heart” of all who love orienteering. Can you imagine how wonderful it would be to see Federations that have more resources and traditions “adopting” a seriously committed Mozambican School? Right now a project is in preparation that intends to attract orienteers from all over the world, offering them excellent accommodation at Bilene Beach and asking, as a counterpart, for a share of their knowledge. This is part of a broader project designated “Orienteering Africa” with objectives that will appear very soon on the web-page that is currently being created. And it would also be wonderful to see “young orienteers” from all over the world, even those with grey hair, teaching the students of Mozambican schools.

More work, better work

The programme for 2014 is already well structured and includes the selection in March of youngsters who will attend the Silva O-Camp in the Czech Republic and some events in Spain during the months of July and August. This exchange is organised under a scheme promoting integration through orienteering, coordinated by the Mozambique Sur Foundation and the Spanish Orienteering Federation and also involving Educational Centres in Spain. And at a time when Mozambique develops efforts to join the International School Sport Federation, it will continue the work towards selection of four young athletes who will represent the country in the 2015 World School Sports Orienteering Championships which will take place in Turkey.

The last words are from José Samper, orienteering’s “father” in Mozambique, gleaned from a letter written to Father José Maria, Director of the Casa do Gaiato of Mozambique, in the aftermath of the World Championships ISF 2013. Words which reflect all the work performed over the past twelve years, through the present and into the future. “Impossible not to feel happy and proud when, after four hours of competition on the mountains, I found one of the children close to the finish, exhausted, drinking water in a stream, but willing to reach his goal at all costs; impossible not to feel glad and grateful when I saw them rehearse, at the end of each day, their dance for the festival; impossible not to feel happy with the praise and affection of all nations and of the Portuguese people, during their passage in the inaugural parade and at the entrance to the stadium, me being more of a Mozambican myself; impossible not to feel happy with the care from my Spanish boys and girls towards my boys from Mozambique. This was and will be the incentive for the daily work of many Gaiatos. Dreams can come true!”

Joaquim Margarido

[See the original article on Inside Orienteering 06/2013, at Published with permission from the International Orienteering Federation]

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