My name is Margaret Banja, I’m 34 and it’s my desire to nurture new talent that has led to me working with the EACDT for the last two years.
Sport plays a vital role in children’s lives, whether at a social or competitive level. We focus on cricket, but also the character development program. It provides the opportunity to develop interpersonal skills and self-esteem and create a positive self-image.
I love seeing kids’ passion and fun when playing the game they previously knew absolutely nothing about; making friends and respecting each other. It opens opportunities – the programme doesn’t only focus on cricket, but on fundamental personality development, along with coordination, discipline and social development.
I was nine when I started playing cricket on the street. It was the best time of my life; there were no rules, and it was fun following my brother when he went to play – learning from him kindled the interest to play the game. We would wake up every morning and wait for our parents to leave. As soon as they boarded a bus to work, we would start playing, and forget all they’d asked us to do.
I played football for our community for two years, then joined a cricket club for a higher level of the game. Then came the time for a football tournament. We were to go to Norway, but because of problems with the coaches and the girls I decided not to go. I felt bad for some of the girls; they did not have parents to teach them right from wrong. After few months, the coach of the national cricket team asked me to join them for training, but I didn’t go because of the problems with the football coaches – those incidents made me suspicious of everyone.
The cricket coach came to my home one morning and asked my sister to call me, but I said no. So the coach asked my mum to get me out of bed. I was asked along to the national cricket team nets. I didn’t want to play at first, but when I went in to bat, people started asking where I’d come from and who’d taught me. I told them it was my brother and my neighbours and we just played on the street. I was selected, and since then have played for the national team and loved every moment of it.
Years went by, and I gave birth to my daughter. That same year, I was asked to play for my country in the ICC World Cup Qualifiers Africa Region in Kenya. I said yes, but it was not easy – the rest of team were training, and I was at home breastfeeding on the first day of the tournament. I could not take tea in the morning because of the milk coming out of my breast, and I only saw my baby late in the evening. It was hard at night. I could not wake up when she was crying at middle of night. But my family was behind me – they would wake up and made sure the baby was OK. In the morning the coach would call and ask how the two of us were. I could not warm up with the team. I got to the ground 20 mins before the game started, but that was the best year of my life. I was selected as the best bowler of that tournament and after that tournament was selected to play for Africa in the Afro-Asia in India. It was a great privilege being the same hotel with the top world cricketers: it felt good.
Being a single mother has not been easy, but I thank God for it. My baby has never missed anything in her life. When I came back home after a hard day she would run to me, all smiles, and hug me. It gave me the strength to fight for my daughter day by day. Playing for the national team and not being paid for it, it reached a time when I would sell my stuff to buy her things. But playing for the national team has made me successful – I’ve met many great people and enjoyed working with them, including the UK charity Cricket Without Boundaries.
The charity asked me to talk about Aids, and teach cricket. The kids have fun, and forget all they went through back at home.