By Erin Kasungu
(Commonwealth Games Canada - International Development Through Sport Intern - Alumni)


Looking back, I never could have imagined where sport would take me and what it would teach me in life. The dawn of my post-university adventures began during my last week at York University while waiting outside a professor’s office wondering what the heck I was going to do with my life. I knew I had a yearning to travel and to also keep sport in my life, but I didn’t realize that I could combine these two passions. That was until I looked up outside of that professor’s door and saw these words: do you like to travel? Do you have a passion for sport? Check out the Commonwealth Games Canada (CGC) internship program. It was here where my passion for development through sport began.

I knew as an athlete and coach that sport had profoundly impacted my life and the lives of my athletes. Little did I know that there was a whole field emerging around the intentional use of sport as a tool for development. So I applied to the CGC’s Canadian Sport Leadership Corps in 2002 and was accepted to be a Youth Development Officer in the beautiful Caribbean island of Grenada for eight months. I worked at the New Life Organization (NEWLO) which was comprised of three vocational training centres across the island. The 250 students ranged in age from 14-24, primarily from low-income and/or problematic (abusive and substance abuse) families. This alternative educational centre was created to help students who could not thrive in the regular school system, either due to the highly selective examination process in an underfunded education system in Grenada or those who had destructive behaviours. Through a holistic curriculum, students first learned basic academic skills, followed by hands-on vocational courses (such as masonry, plumbing, hospitality arts, cosmetology, office skills, etc). There was also an emphasis place on personal, spiritual and physical development – that is where I came in. My role was to help develop the physical component through physical education programs, sports days and extracurricular activities (intramurals, tournaments and competitive teams).

Two of my biggest challenges were a lack of space with limited equipment, and motivating the students to actually care about getting active. At one of the centres, our closest (not maintained) field was a good 15 minute walk, and I would end up losing most of the class along the way before we got there! However, during my eight months, I witnessed significant change. With the other staff members, we managed to gather resources and donations to buy more equipment. Many students grew more confident, and several who were labeled as the “bad kids” began to thrive and even became positive influences for their peers through responsibilities they took on through sport. Opportunities for NEWLO students to compete against their “mainstream school” peers helped ease feelings of being left out or of not being good enough.

The internship taught me so much about the power of sport. How it can break down cultural divides; change the path of a destructive teenager; or build community and confidence in a population that often feels marginalized and overwhelmed by the difficulty of their situations. I’m cautious of the word development, as I feel like it implies that those I worked alongside were inferior in some way. Yes there was poverty and tough circumstances, but there was also lots of laughter and sharing even amongst those who had very little possessions to give. I learned that poverty of one’s spirit is much more harmful to a community than economic scarcity.

The students weren’t the only ones to experience change – I think there were also big changes that happened in me. The experiences and the relationships I developed during those eight months had a great impact on my life and in forming who I am today. Living and working in a different environment made me question everything I knew and helped me see who I truly was. I matured tremendously, put into situations that I would never had encountered at home – meeting the President, for example, or connecting directly with representatives from the Grenada Ministry of Sport and Education. I also learned a lot about leadership. I found the most effective way to work in a different culture was not to come in thinking I had all the answers, but to learn how to listen and lead by empowering others to guide themselves.

Now, nine years later, these lessons and insights still reside in me as I live, love, work and play back here, in Canada. I will end with this quote – “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes”. Marcel Proust