|Victoria Fernandes Paul, standing next to coach Mahan Singh, the East African team with the lat Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi|
Life within itself
By Mitelia (Fernandes) Paul
Sport in the world has taken on its own entity, especially within the last two decades. Integration with technology has given a huge impetus to the quality of sports. However, in retrospect, when our Goan sports community in far-away lands thinks about our experiences in sports in Africa, we realise that sports was an entity all to itself, with the highest level of performance, akin to the level of sports that we experience presently.
As we reunite in various lands, we always revert to our wonderful days participating in various sports in Africa. When I immigrated to Canada in 1968, I used my performance level in field hockey, badminton and track and field, to propel me to representative sports in my adopted country, Canada. I was on the Ontario Provincial Field Hockey team and on the Canadian Women’s Masters Field Hockey team. I also reached the Ontario Provincial level in the “Women’s Doubles” in Badminton.
I was twice awarded the “Premier of Ontario Award for Contribution in Sports to Canada” - highest award from the Ontario Government. In 1969, in the early days of the founding of “The Goan Overseas Association” (GOA) in Toronto my sisters Astrid Fernandes, Yasmin Fernandes and Joan Lobo and I enlisted many of our Goan sports figures to form a field hockey team. As leaders of the team, we also co-ordinated the transportation and administration duties for the team, like umpiring, for many years, to achieve our goal of forming both men and women formidable Goan field hockey teams.
On both the Women’s and Men’s teams, we eventually had a winning combination of players from the Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. In 1974, the GOA Women’s team consisted of players from the Kenyan and Ugandan Women’s international players. This team consisted of players like Ugandan stalwarts Nancy Agard, Zulema De Souza, Ella Gomes, Delphine Francis, and Kenyan players like Astrid Fernandes, Gloria Fernandes, Melba Almeida and Mitelia Fernandes.
With this solid base, many other Goan field hockey players from Africa and India joined the team. This champion team went on to win many provincial and state tournaments in both
Canada and USA. We were not only the flagship of the Toronto Goan Overseas Association,
but we were also ambassadors for the Goan community in North America. I have many splendid memories of my sporting career in Kenya, Africa, in badminton, track and field and hockey.
Both my sister and I dominated track and field at Dr. Ribeiro Goan School, Nairobi. We achieved the “Track and Field Champion of the Year” consecutively over an eight year span, amidst participation in other sports. My sister Yasmin Fernandes was also a member of the school’s 1st XI field hockey team. We all credit our coaches at the school, such as the famed Goan field hockey coach Mr. Anthony D’Souza, our teachers and our parents for guiding and supporting us through these formative sporting years of our lives. Many of us, now living and communicating around the world, appreciate the benefits of our sports heritage.
My most poignant sporting memories are my participation in Field Hockey. I represented the Kenya Women’s Field Hockey Team for many years as a left wing and left inner. I first represented the Kenya Women’s Field Hockey second X1 team at the age of fourteen, eventually graduating to the First X1. Inclusion in the Kenya Women’s Field Hockey team was a most difficult feat for non-British nationalities. However, with continued dedication, family support and exceedingly hard work in an extra-curricular sports’ field, while in high school, many of us succeeded in achieving national status. At this time in the sixties, four Goan girls were included on the Kenya team, Teresa Mendonca, Bertha Fernandes, Melba Almeida and Mitelia Fernandes, amongst 10 British women and three African women. The four Goan players provided the core strength for our international team, as both offence and defence players, playing against teams such as England, International Wanderers, USA, Japan, India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Holland, Uganda and other national teams (see photograph).
Our Ugandan Goan counterparts were in the forefront too. We often had many tense games against each other in Uganda and Kenya. Ugandan players included Nancy Agard, Zulema De Souza, Ella Gomes, Delphine Francis and others. Many of us now live in Canada, and continued playing representative hockey. We were also recruited for the Canadian National
Team, however, we were unable to travel across the country for the Canadian trials and training due to our recent settlement in Canada. Invitation to the Canadian trials highlighted the superior level of sports in Africa.
The highlight for the Kenyan and Ugandan Women’s Hockey Team was an overseas trip to
India, where we played in the “All India World Field Hockey Championships” in New Delhi, Bombay and in the Punjab areas. We played against teams from Asia and Africa to capacity crowds at every game. We were treated as royalties, with an all-expense paid trip, photograph opportunities, autographs and travel across the sub-continent from the Himalayan foothills to the dynamic city of Bombay. It was at this time that both the Ugandan and Kenyan players forged solid relationships, which would serve us well in our adopted country of Canada.
However, the highlight of this trip was the Kenya team’s visit to “Government House” in New Delhi, where we had afternoon tea with the Prime Minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi (see photograph). We were able to communicate with her informally and in-depth, as is unlikely today. She was especially delighted to meet with the Indian Goan members of the Kenya Team. We all left with life-changing experiences, after noting her most pragmatic yet charismatic personality.
When I returned to Kenya from India in 1967, I had two wonderful opportunities awaiting me in Nairobi. One was that I was given the most coveted “Independent Immigration Visa” to Canada, which could not be renewed or postponed. The other surprise was that I was to be included in the Kenya Women’s Field Hockey Team to the “World Cup Championships” in Germany, which also included international games around Europe. The dates coincided, and I had to make the most difficult decision of my life, either to immigrate to Canada, or to play in “The World Cup Championship” in Europe. My dream was to play on the world stage for Kenya, and yet I knew that we had to depart our beloved Kenya to make a new life. I chose to immigrate to Canada, knowing the long-term benefits for my family, my career and my life, especially given the unpredictable situation in Africa in the sixties.
This decision, in retrospect, was the most difficult, yet correct decision. My son graduated from Brown and Stanford Universities and is now a Californian physician. He is also an academic physician for Dartmouth and Stanford Medical schools. He is in addition, a physician for the USA Oakland “A” football team. My daughter graduated from Harvard Medical School, and is an academic physician at Harvard and North-western Medical Schools. Both are sports’ enthusiasts, having achieved the Canadian Swimming National Level status. They both did humanitarian work in Kenya and India, and they both have an intrinsic understanding about our cherished lives in Africa.
As we, the African sports’ enthusiasts reunite around the world, we are in unison about our sporting heritage, which gave us the solid foundation in all realms for our successes in life.
Many of us are professionals and business owners. I owe my success as an educational consultant and achievement of my doctoral degree to my formidable grounding in sports in
Africa. I have also coached many high school and university teams in field hockey in the United States and Canada, transferring my love for sports and Africa to the youth of today.