ground·swell - ˈɡroun(d)ˌswel/
Definition - A buildup of opinion or feeling in a large section of the population.
Now that the team had settled in, and got a glimpse of the response from the community, it was time to test our approach at a higher level of disruption. Meaning, will the kids in the most densely populated areas respond to boxing? Keep in mind, the majority of the places where we executed the “pop-up” exhibitions were unannounced and held on soccer fields where older children or adults were in the middle of games. We essentially (in some cases) forced them to stop playing, or at least take an extended halftime. However, engaging these children was imperative to our mission. It was important to the Boxing Is Love team that we begin at the community level to start a ground swell, but the question still remained as to whether boxing could yield a response at the expense of their beloved football.
In total, we executed five separate exhibitions that all followed the same cadence. The team would pack into a van, and head to a field “just 20 minutes” away. In reality, the field was NEVER just 20 minutes away – with traffic, poorly kept roads, the need for gas, bathroom stops, or the occasional and inconvenient stop for a snack by our beloved driver – the journey to our destinations were very long and very hot. Upon arrival, it was customary that we engage the village elders first as a right of passage, but also for support mobilizing the children. Garnering attention was never an issue. Our team consisted of six white faces jumping out of a peculiar van with duffle bags full of stuff. In some cases, that might have been the first time some of these kids ever saw a “white man.” One can only imagine the confusion and curiosity as to what could have been in those bags as well. But, I digress… Access to these villages was always welcomed. The elders, though protective of their people, recognized the talent with the children. They recognized they're hungry for new opportunity, and an outlet (or just something new) would simply be beneficial for morale.
Every village leader and their people embraced our presence. We were walked to an open field, and people began to swarm. As previously mentioned, the nation of Liberia has an average age of < 19 years old, but what’s even more remarkable are the five townships around Monrovia with an overall population of 150-200k children in just 7-8 sq/km. Our routine had to remain consistent as a way to maintain any kind of order, but inevitably we were overcome by the eagerness of these children, in the best kind of way.
We would start by pulling out the equipment – flashy gloves, and focus pads – then start working a few combos for all to see. The most curious was always the youngest, boy or girl, as they would gradually move closer to a trainer that they seemed to fear the “least.” The teenagers, or young adults, were the most resistant as often our presence interfered with their football (soccer) game. They typically complained for the first ten minutes until even they grew more and more curious. And, of course, our entire team, at one time or another, got challenged by the same heart-wrenching question, “These children are hungry, why do you teach them to fight?” I felt this was a reasonable question, and we did provide food at every exhibition; however, my hope is that one day they do realize why we came.
The purpose for engaging these youngsters in this manner was twofold. We wanted to gage overall interest - Would boxing interest them? Is it a sport that can persist in their community? Secondly, if so, we wanted to intentionally create a ground swell of interest – introduce a new activity, and reach them at a community level. The same patterns replicated at every exhibition – the elders welcomed us, the children were curious yet shy, the teenagers resisted, and the adults questioned – but all it took was that first person (boy, girl, man, woman) to put on the gloves, and the proverbial bow broke. At the conclusion of every singe, exhibition was a pad demonstration by the team. Without fail, our team was surrounded by hundreds of interested onlookers, laughing children, previously skeptical teenagers now in awe, and a collective chant that echoed throughout the village, “Boxing Is LOVE! Boxing is LOVE!” Boxing was successfully introduced to thousands of children in less than two weeks. We left them hungry for more, and more they will receive.