ISEA's treasurer, Dave Mulligan, recently found himself in Cartagena, Colombia on holidays and had the opportunity to visit one of ISEA's sister organisations 'Squash Urbano Colombia'. Below is a short account of his visit and impressions.
I was greeted warmly by Esteban Espinal and shown around the facility they use. It was immediately obvious that ISEA should want to emulate many elements of this programme. Squash Urbano Colombia is fortunate to operate from 7 public glass back courts (including one doubles court). The facility also houses 2 small classrooms (capable of catering for 10-15 pupils each) with plans to convert the current storage room into a computer room for the students. The organisation employs 2 full-time coaches in addition to a full-time teacher and part-time coach.
The success of this programme was clear from the outset. Anyone observing the children is greeted by their distinct joy in participating. Many of the children were very friendly and came over to introduce themselves in English which is a testament to the English lessons they receive as part of their sessions. This, in addition to help with their school homework, forms part of the academic half of their time spent in the programme.
The standard of squash on show was also very impressive as many of the children play 4/5 times a week. Esteban informed me there are 52 children (27 girls, 25 boys varying in age from 8 to 16 years of age) currently in the programme, all attending a local school within walking distance in Cartagena. Due to limited classroom space, each of these children attend school for approximately 4 hours a day in a class of 35-40 students. This means that the time they spend in the programme after school is not only an urgent need but also hugely beneficial. Receiving coaching and tutoring in a group of 10-15 provides more attention and care to each student than they receive in school.
It was clear from my brief time there that this programme will go from strength to strength in the future. The tremendously positive impact this programme can have on young students is tangible. I saw joy, focus, a drive for learning as well as a willingness to give back (the 16 year old students volunteer to help coach the youngest students each saturday). Maybe one day there could be a visit from these students to ISEA in Dublin, if we can build our programme to their high standard I would be proud to show them around.