Julie Smith and the Netball Development Trust – International Volunteer Day

Working across 165 schools in 15 villages and communities in Kenya, Uganda, Ghana and Zimbabwe, the Netball Development Trust (NDT) is changing the lives of young people through the power of netball.

Run by a group of dedicated trustees and volunteers, the project has supported over 21,000 children.

One of those Trustees is Julie Smith, who received Pioneer of the Year at the 2023 ONE Awards and has been part of the charity since its inception but has also been a volunteer for as long as she can remember.

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“I think it’s just been in my blood,” said Julie. “My mum always volunteered with things like scouting and various other hobbies. That’s just what we did as a family.

“I went on tour to Uganda with Monica [Thandi – founder] in 2011. She was working with the Tag Rugby Trust, a similar charity, but clearly tag rugby. We learnt a lot from them and went to Uganda and India with them. After that, the two of us just said, hang on a minute, we need to make this a thing with netball. So, we then registered the charity in 2012 and have been running it voluntarily ever since.”

The pair began coaching netball in villages in Uganda and Kenya and trained local coaches to help with their delivery.

But it was quickly noticed that some girls weren’t turning up to play and weren’t even turning up to school.

“We were coaching some girls all week and it came to the festival day on the Friday and these two girls who had joined in all week suddenly weren’t playing. Monica and I were like, “Why aren’t you playing girls?” and they said, “We’re on our period”.”

“There was a lot of taboo around it and some of them didn’t have the products. Some of them didn’t understand what was happening to them when they started bleeding for the first time and their friends didn’t know what was happening so they ended up taking them to hospital.”

And it’s not just in Uganda where Julie and Monica have noticed this.

“We went to Zimbabwe this year and we sat down with all the volunteers and asked what are the health issues that are stopping these girls from going to school every day and periods is the first thing that always comes up. In the four countries that we’re in, that’s the number one and then teenage pregnancy is typically number two.”

Here in the UK, 64% of girls leave sport by the time they finish puberty and 39% of girls don’t do sport when they are on their period.

Earlier this year, England Netball launched NETBALLHer, an education programme to teach girls at all levels of sport about their bodies.

The Netball Development Trust mirrors this focus on girls with their delivery and has provided sanitary pads to 210 girls and is working on several new projects to further their impact with the help of a passionate group of local NDT volunteers.

And of all this is made possible through the power of netball.

“We are working in proper villages in Africa where they don’t have much, but they can build a netball court.

“One of the first times we went out, there was a tree in the field one day and then the next day there wasn’t a tree but there were some netball posts built.

“A lot of these kids that we work with don’t have fun in their lives. If they can go to school, they go to school all day, come home, do the chores, look after their siblings and their parents and then repeat.

“We first started doing it just to let kids have fun and then we saw the power in it. They can have fun and have these incredible role models through their local coaches who can also educate them.”

Today is International Volunteer Day, an opportunity to recognise the power of collective action and celebrate those who help to better the lives of others.

Julie has volunteered for over 30 years and has made friends across the world through her efforts. She also credits some of the best moments in her life to volunteering.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, I was trying all different kinds of volunteering. I was in vaccination centres, working at food banks, picking up prescriptions for people. Doing that made me see things differently and gain a greater respect for people in the world.

“You are genuinely making a difference to someone else’s life. You know, what’s better than that?”

The Netball Development Trust are currently looking for some new trustees to join their team to help the charity continue its growth. If you would like to find out more, get in touch with their team via their social media channels.

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