June 1, 2017
Tamaire (throwing balls into a basket held up on a high pole) is a well-known UNDOKAI event in Japan. In the Malawian version, participants throw round, hard, plastic balls into an overhead bucket
"Ready, set, go!"
A pistol fires at the starting line, and the kids start running. A big cheer erupts on the athletic field.
Japanese people are well-acquainted with UNDOKAI, or Sports Day. It is a major annual event for the families of schoolchildren, whether they like sports or not. However, in many developing countries, no physical education takes place, let alone a Sports Day.
On the day of the undokai, JOCV Yui Sato participates in an organizational meeting. She'd visited related places repeatedly, including as the district education manager, and at last the day of the event had arrived
Malawi was the location of Africa's first UNDOKAI, in February 2015. The Japan Overseas Cooperative Association (JOCA) and Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCVs) partnered to train local teachers how to put on an UNDOKAI. This led to elementary schools holding their own UNDOKAI. Ever since, UNDOKAI have been taking root little by little in Malawi, even as the venues and methods have changed. In February 2017, the third year of the effort to popularize the UNDOKAI, one was held in Monkey Bay, the district of Mangochi.
The person at the center of this event was JOCV Yui Sato. Ms. Sato, who normally advises on elementary school expressive arts (handicrafts, music, physical education and competitive dancing), decided to make UNDOKAI in Africa a reality because she wanted to teach students the importance of working toward a goal. She worked hard to prepare for the event.
When it finally began to look like the UNDOKAI would be held, teachers began practicing along with her. However, Malawi has a lot of enormous schools, and the total number of students in the three elementary schools that would participate was 4,000. Because it would have been difficult for all of them to participate, 80 children were chosen from each, for a total of 240 kids participating. The local teachers who JOCVs trained in UNDOKAI management were the ones who ran the event when the day came.
When the first event, a foot race (rare in Malawi), began under the sun's strong rays, shouts of joy erupted from the 800 students and neighbors who had hurried there to cheer. Japanese staff members of the JICA Malawi Office were surprised to see locals enjoying the UNDOKAI so much. "I’ve never experienced this kind of explosive enthusiasm in Japan," one said.
Participants warmed up with Japanese radio calisthenics. At left, JOCV Yui Sato demonstrates. At center, the tug of war generated a lot of enthusiasm. At right, As an exhibition, music club members gave a Mini Piano performance
All students who came in first place got certificates of merit
The cheers never died down for the students, who left nothing on the field when competing in Japanese UNDOKAI events including the three-legged race, the relay, tamaire (throwing balls into a basket held up on a high pole) and the tug of war. The third annual UNDOKAI in Malawi lasted 5.5 hours.
While rejoicing over the success of the event, the teachers who worked on it talked about the appeal of UNDOKAI, and seemed enthusiastic about holding another one. "All students can participate in UNDOKAI events and they provide practical education on obeying rules," one said.
UNDOKAI continue to spread not just in Malawi, but in other developing countries, including Senegal, Cambodia and Ethiopia. JICA will continue its assistance in cooperation with Sports for Tomorrow*1 so as many children as possible can experience the fun of participating in sports.
*1 An international sports initiative to last through 2020, when the Tokyo Summer Olympics and Paralympics will be held. It is an effort to communicate the value of sports to more than 100 countries, including developing countries, and to more than 10 million people of every generation.