Blog: Mitch Rao's Globetrotting Winter
It has been a busy few months for one of Scotland's young cricketers, from the ICC U19 CWC to Uganda here Mitch Rao gives us a the run down on his winter
"From the heat of Colombo, to the hustle and bustle of Dhaka and finally to the 'Pearl of Africa' - Uganda, these last few months have been crazy!
First up in early January was a trip to Colombo, Sri Lanka to prepare for the U19 World Cup. We tested ourselves against quality local oppositions, learnt about the sub-continental conditions, which was a new experience for some of the squad, and pushed our fitness levels to acclimatise to the intense heat. After a tough winter training in Edinburgh it was awesome to get outside and training in the sun, although maybe a bit too hot at times! Colombo was a beautiful city with good food, friendly locals and lots to do in our downtime.
Bangladesh was a very tough place to be and the high level of security posed a tough psychological challenge for the squad. We were unlucky to lose a few key players with injuries at critical times. Unfortunately, at times our performances did not meet the high standard we set ourselves and I don't feel as though we have showed our full potential as a group which is very disappointing and frustrating and still hurts a bit to this day, especially given our success as a squad in Jersey last summer. However, it was an absolute honour to represent Scotland on the global stage and I feel like I've learnt loads from competing with the full member nations and can't wait to build on this learning curve and take the experiences into the new season. Following this experience I am motivated to get in to the gym, get to training and hopefully put in some performances to help my club in their first season in the Premiership, so exciting times ahead!
In Dhaka we were humbled to meet survivors of acid attacks and experienced first-hand extremes of poverty and deprivation. Having had my eyes opened to the way many people less fortunate than myself have to live, I decided with the money that I'd made at the World Cup, I would go and spend in March doing voluntary work in Uganda.
My placement in Uganda was in a primary school in Kajjansi (a township near Kampala, the capital city) as a voluntary sports coach although on occasions I even helped them by teaching some maths classes - believe it or not I still remembered how to add and subtract fractions! I travelled to my placement every morning on a boda-boda (motorbike taxi) which were cheap and a great way to see the place but are almost as scary as being on the roads of Dhaka!! The school was located in an underprivileged community and lacked the basic resources we take for granted in the UK so it was amazing, and in many ways quite inspiring, to see how the teachers and pupils managed with so little, never complaining once! Football is the most popular sport in Uganda. Its popularity and the few resources required to play it made it the main sport taught in schools. I arrived armed with bats, balls and stumps and introduced them to cricket! It was very tough at first teaching a completely new sport but seeing them improve over my time there was so rewarding! Teaching them a new sport gives them new skills and it gives them a get away from all the struggles of their daily lives. I also taught the teachers how to teach cricket so they can continue with the work I've done. The kids were so enthusiastic to learn and the smile on their faces while playing sport is something I will never forget.
I left the school some cricket kit and as much knowledge as I could give in the three weeks that I was there. Most importantly though, I hopefully shared with them some of my passion for cricket and left these fantastic kids fired up with the enthusiasm to continue playing.
Whilst there I managed to find time to get to the gym and run most days as I know how important it is to keep up with the guys at home in terms of fitness, especially this close to the new season. Training at 30+ degrees, in the unlikely event of a Scottish heatwave, I’m well prepared!
It's not been all work however, away from the school I have had a truly wonderful experience of Uganda. The locals are so friendly and welcoming! I have spent a weekend on safari, watched the sun rise on the River Nile, stood on both sides of the Equator, played soccer with the locals, attended an Easter church service, learnt a bit of the local language and even experienced the vibrant local nightlife! I have made some amazing friends with both locals from Uganda and other volunteers from across the globe and have shared some memories which I will cherish forever.
So as I sit at 35000ft above the Sahara desert and reflect on my experiences of the last few months I can't help but feel grateful for the opportunities I've had to travel while playing and coaching the sport I love. These experiences have changed the way I see some things and I am sure have made me a stronger person both on and off the cricket field!
I’m looking forward to getting home to the simple pleasures of clean running water, warm showers and wifi! So for now, as they would say in Uganda - Welaba!!