Stop a spinning globe with your finger and unless you’re pointing directly into an ocean, odds are decent that there are at least a few people who know that the West Coast Express was once more than just an economical way to get to work.
Even in a hockey barren country like Kenya the Canucks have quite a few fans, all thanks to the devotion of a local schoolteacher.
Last July Carolanne Oswald joined a group of teachers and traveled to Kenya as part of Teachers Without Borders, a worldwide non-profit organization that provides professional development opportunities and school supplies for teachers to help them become better equipped to make a difference in their communities.
It was an eye-opening experience for Oswald, a proud British Columbian with 16 years as an educator to her name; one that she ensured the Vancouver Canucks played a big part in.
“When I was first offered a place on this trip, I thought it was a great idea to bring my Canucks stuff and tell them about the sport and share my love of hockey with them,” said Oswald, a devoted Vancouver fan who, as the baby sister of two older brothers, grew up surrounded by hockey.
Oswald took that idea a step further as she approached the Canucks about donating some keepsakes for the teachers and students in Kenya. Vancouver’s community relations team replied with a generous offering of everything from t-shirts to player cards.
Visiting a foreign country can be daunting at the best of times and even though Oswald and her group were in Kenya offering help, there were a few cultural borders to cross before she really got through to the teachers and students.
Just as originally planned, Oswald used her enthusiasm for hockey and all things Canucks to connect with the community in a fun way.
“Something that tends to unite people from different countries is sports and of course in Kenya there is no hockey,” explained Oswald, who visited many elementary and secondary schools in addition to providing conferences for teachers.
“So I could talk about hockey and it allowed me to share some Canadian culture with the Kenyans and that opened a lot of doors. It was a vehicle for getting to know them better and eventually it became an avenue into sports and life in Kenya.”
To Oswald’s surprise quite a few people had heard of hockey, so thankfully she didn’t come off as the scary lady talking about this crazy game played on ice between big people with sticks.
In Kenya the kids play soccer and little else, but not with luxuries like balls and cleats, try plastic bags balled together and roped in place with yarn that are passed around with bare feet.
This made the whimsical tale of hockey an even greater draw for the kids and even though they didn’t touch on fighting’s place within the sport, discussions were lively.
On top of educating the Kenyan teachers during the trip, Oswald was the only member trained in helping children with special education needs, so she also spent a lot of time developing specialized learning plans for each student.
The ins and outs of the game were meaningless to them, hockey started and ended with the Canucks logo.
“I could explain to them what the symbol represented on the stickers, it represented the Canucks and that they were a hockey team.
“That really provided me an opportunity to connect with these children especially, along with anyone else I met along the way.”
At the end of the excursion, after the Kenyan teachers had learned almost all they could from their visitors, including Vancouver’s off-season acquisitions, there was only one thing Oswald had left to teach them.
“I taught them the wave,” she laughed.
“The teachers really loved that, they were really into that. I also taught them a few hockey cheers and they were just laughing their heads off and having a great old time.”
What could have been a dry educational experience for both parties, Oswald transformed into a once in a lifetime journey in which hockey enabled her to establish relationships deeper than she ever thought possible.
“It was just amazing, it was incredibly rewarding,” said Oswald.
“The things I found rewarding were just the opportunities of learning from Kenya, it was great to learn from them about their education system and the needs there, the cultural differences.
“The whole experience was something special and its one that I’ll never forget.”
For more information about Teachers Without Borders visit www.teacherswithoutborders.org