Catholic Relief Services Headshot

Girls Will Be Girls—Even in Darfur

Posted: Updated:
Print

By Rachel Hermes

I arrive with two basketballs a little after 8:30 in the morning. As I cross the long lawn in the boarding compound of a women's university in the capital of West Darfur, I see streams of color already zipping up and down the basketball court. I'm late, but the girls have begun their warm-up running routine.

The streams of color are the high school girls' head scarves; most keep them tied on even while playing sports. They also wear long pants. In fact, the most visible body part on the basketball court is the girls' bare feet. Fortunately, it's a relatively smooth surface as the court was constructed recently.

The court is an ideal place for females to play sports; it's a spacious compound with walls well over 10 feet high. The sights and sounds of the town might as well be miles away, which is perfect. Females—even young girls—are rarely, if ever, seen playing sports in a public space.

The girls come from three different secondary schools in El Geneina and have been playing basketball for four hours each weekend for the past 10 weeks. Their enthusiasm for learning an entirely new sport—and for spending two hours practicing each weekend morning—is admirable. I believe they keep returning because they are drawn by the satisfaction of accomplishment and the simple opportunity to be girls.

They are delighted when it suddenly clicks that shooting off your fingertips instead of your palm greatly increases your scoring potential, or bending your knees on defense really does help you move faster. There is an equally great sense of satisfaction for any coach when her players master the fundamentals of the crossover dribble or making a solid chest pass.

Although these girls inevitably return home each weekend day to a long to-do list of laundry, cooking, dishes and sweeping, this doesn't reduce their energy level. We stretch together in a circle at the end of each practice, and as one recent practice finished--perhaps due to euphoria over cooler weather and visible skill improvement--an impromptu dance party broke out. It was a heartwarming reminder of the similarities of girls all over the world.

Rachel Hermes is CRS Sudan's education program manager for West Darfur.