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Stepping out of my comfort zone

See how champion Aboriginal cricketer Floyd Doyle is using the fine art of leg-spin bowling to help disadvantaged youth in Nairobi.

"When we get together, it doesn't matter where you come from, what socio part of life you're from, what your ethnic background is. We all get together, we work as one, and it's all about teamwork."

You only need to look at professionals like Dan Christian and Jason Gillespie to realise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cricketers have made a serious mark on the game; their spectacular all-rounder skills making a big impression on Australian and international crowds. But it's in Kenya that cricket is inspiring a much smaller - but no less important - group of people, with support from Goreng Goreng and Meriam man, and self-confessed "cricketing tragic", Floyd Doyle.

A former New South Wales grade cricketer and a 20-year veteran of community work in the Northern Territory, Floyd recently supported the Obuya Cricket Academy in Nairobi to develop its sport for social inclusion program. He was a volunteer supported by Australian Red Cross through the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program, an Australian Government initiative. Run by brothers Kennedy, David, Charlie, Collins Obuya and their cousin Josephat Agunga, the community initiative works with youth from the Nairobi slums to teach them the finer points of cricket, promote sport involvement, run awareness campaigns and help raise funds for their school fees as a means of increasing access to education and reducing poverty. It was a visit to Kenya the previous year when he saw first-hand the disadvantages facing some communities, as well as some of the cultural similarities, that inspired Floyd to volunteer overseas.

Skills and inclusion

"A lot of Kenyan traditional and tribal stuff is very similar to our tribal stuff. Everything is very, very similar," he says. "Some didn't know we have tribes over here [in Australia], and once you talk about stuff like that, it just breaks down barriers. It opens up the door straight away between each other."
Floyd was preparing to return home when he noticed the Red Cross advertisement with the cricket academy. He successfully applied for the role and attended a few days of pre-departure training in Melbourne before heading back to Nairobi to start his assignment. Floyd soon found that the parallels and shared experiences between First Australian and Kenyan cultures was an immediate and effective way to break the ice upon his arrival. On top of that, coaching the kids not only imparted some deadly cricketing skills, but also quickly fostered a strong sense of inclusion among the Kenyan community. Interest in the academy has grown to such an extent that an inter-schools competition and regional coaching clinics are already underway and with great success - almost 30 different schools have signed up to the program so far.

"The best part of my day is working with the young ones - all the kids," Floyd recalls. "And we work together as a team. When we get together, it doesn't matter where you come from, what socio part of life you're from, what your ethnic background is. We all get together, we work as one, and it's all about teamwork. "

Volunteering and educating

After forging a strong friendship with the Obuyas ("I was more or less adopted!"), the story of an Indigenous Queenslander teaching the art of leg-spin bowling in Africa attracted attention back in Australia. Speaking with the Koori Mail, Floyd strongly encouraged his Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters to "step out of your comfort zone" and consider volunteering in overseas communities - not just for their own benefit but also for the purpose of enlightening a larger audience about a people and culture not readily known outside of Australia.

"I'm not sure whether Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians understand that everyone in foreign countries do not know that Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples exist…it is just well hidden from the rest of the world and other nations believe that everything is okay with Indigenous people in Australia when we know the truth - it is not."

Connecting and supporting

Floyd acknowledges that while the experiences and insights of First Australians can bring a unique perspective to overseas assignments, it can also create its own challenges for folks who draw upon family and community as a source of strength.

"For some Indigenous people, homesickness can be a disadvantage. I don't usually get that, so I can't speak for myself. But for others there will be the tyranny of being a long way away from family and everyone. Because Indigenous people are very closely connected, it can be very hard.

"But then there are the massive advantages of connecting with the people and the communities, and there are the support networks. The High Commission of Australia holds events. There are many Australian expats around - they also hold events and they have a network which you can log onto. And don't forget there are your Red Cross people as well. They're always holding get-togethers for the new people, plus they catch up with you to see how you're going."

Home and away

Now back in Australia and continuing his community work in Yuendemu, three hours northwest of Alice Springs, Floyd intends to continue his involvement with the academy. He has kept in regular contact online - a communication tool Floyd believes would be useful in promoting cultural awareness and exchange between First Australian and African communities.

"We haven't stopped talking on the internet. As I said, a lot of their traditional and tribal stuff is very similar, so a sort of thing where schools can talk to each other on Skype or send pictures would be great for cultural exchange."

Floyd also hopes that he will one day be able to organise a cultural exchange trip for Kenyan kids to Australia, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids to Kenya.

"It's one of my dreams, and we'll get there sooner or later. I don't have skills in the way of fundraising, but I'll find a way because I'm passionate about providing some kind of support for the Kenyan youth to alleviate poverty and better their education, as well as encourage other people to really get proactive and support our own Indigenous communities with the same issues that affect us."


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Photo: Australian Red Cross/Drew Weatherstone