Iveshan Lauten - Soccer in Togo
My name is Iveshan Lauten, or Evo for short. I am a 23 year old male from Auckland, New Zealand. I had been working in environmental management for about a year and half before I decided I needed a different experience. I booked my tickets to go volunteer on the Football Project in Togo and later asked my manager if I could take three months off to travel and do volunteer work. Surprisingly enough, my leave was approved!
My Football placement
My journey was an interesting one and the events leading up to it were just as busy as the time in Togo itself. I started out coaching football to the local team in Lomé, as well as a semi-professional team around 40 km north of Lomé, which is full of aspiring footballers wanting to make a career out of playing the game. As well as football coaching, I would spend a few hours every morning teaching a couple of PE classes at one of the local schools.
The football programme was quite informal. I would make my way by moto every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday to coach the semi-professional team. From here, we would carry out an hour of training followed by a team meal for lunch. Although the travelling was a little uncomfortable, the time with the team was great! I learnt so much from them and it was great to see them play and implement our training drills in the games on Saturdays.
I would also go down to the local field in Lomé most afternoons around 4pm to work with the younger teams in the lower leagues, it was really eye opening to see how much the kids loved football and the limited resources they had at their disposal. These trainings were more fun and less structured, but this meant I was able to engage more with the kids, which I found really helped me understand the people and culture of Togo that much more.
While coaching football and being a sports teacher was rewarding, I wanted to be more involved and use my time more effectively. I spoke to the local Projects Abroad team and managed to spend some time at an orphanage and teach English every morning.
Teaching physical education
My work at the schools included physical education classes with teens ranging from 14 to18 years old. This was possibly the most challenging part of all my volunteer work. The language barrier was difficult to overcome, as well as the age of the classes. The kids were a little less willing to want to listen and some of them refused to take part in the exercises. But after time, they warmed up to me teaching them and we were able to make progress in the activities I was trying to teach. Although this was challenging at the start, it made me learn a lot about patience and how to deal with situations I don’t usually come up against.
The highlight of my volunteer experience came out of nowhere, after three weeks of being in Togo. I asked for some additional work to try and make the most of my time. I was assigned to a small primary school with no more than six classrooms and was asked to teach English to children aged between five and nine. At first, I was a little intimidated by the idea as I had no prior teaching experience and very limited knowledge of French. However, after my first day I knew I was going to love it. The kids were so grateful to have an English teacher, and all the staff was friendly and welcoming. I was blown away by how caring and generous they all were.
Care work at the orphanage
My time in the orphanage was brief. I would go down to Mother Charity orphanage whenever I had a couple of hours spare in my day. The team there were also really amazing people. Both locals and people from abroad would volunteer their time to take care for and nurture the kids there. My job here included feeding, playing with and teaching the children. It was quite an informal placement and arrangement I had here, but I still found it very rewarding and enjoyed being able to see the kids running around with smiles on their faces when I arrived.
Living in Togo
My host family were also amazing, I felt like I was part of the family from day one and I really did miss them and their way of life as soon as I had left Togo. They went out of their way to make me feel comfortable, and as with so many of the other people I met in Togo they would make sure I had everything I needed even when they didn’t have much themselves. That is the one thing that really stood out to me during my stay there. I found it really different to life at home and it made me really appreciate the things I have.
The Projects Abroad team were great as well. They were very accessible and were always willing to help out when required. They helped organise trips away on the weekends for the volunteers and I particularly enjoyed the weekly Tuesday catch-ups with all the volunteers. I found this really helpful when sharing the experiences I had and we could compare the bizarre things we saw throughout the week. On most weekends, when we didn’t plan a trip out of Lome, the volunteers would go down to the markets or sit back and relax at the beach or pool. This time off was beneficial, not only to get a much needed break from life in Togo, but also to get to know the other volunteers.
My highlights were the private beaches, the Kpalime region where we visited the forests, waterfalls and mountains, and the markets in and around Togo and Lake Togoville. If I was able to give advice to new volunteers that arrive in Togo, it would be to just embrace it and go into all situations with patience as nothing happens in a rush.
This trip was not only rewarding and eye-opening but it was also life changing for me. I learned a lot about myself and would definitely recommend Togo to anyone thinking of working in the sports, teaching or general volunteering space. The people are warm, caring and friendly. I experienced a lot and the locals taught me so much, it was really invaluable and something you can’t explain, you have to experience for yourself.