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Olympic International Volunteer Inspires From Kenya To New Zealand

One Olympian, six schools and countless questions later, the first instalment of the IVHQ Athletes in Schools program has wrapped up here in Taranaki, New Zealand!

This week I had the privilege of joining one of the world's top rowers, Rebecca Scown, in touring a number of rural schools in Taranaki with her Olympic Medal in tow.

You may recognize Rebecca as the Olympic Rower who volunteered with IVHQ in Kenya back in 2012, following her successful campaign at the London Olympics (where Rebecca won a Bronze Medal in the Women's Coxless Pair)!

Olympic Rower, Rebecca Scown, teaching in Kenya with IVHQ

As part of the IVHQ Athletes in Schools program, Rebecca visited Huirangi, Urenui, Waitoriki, Ratapiko, Mimi and Ahititi Schools in Taranaki to share her experience as an Olympic Athlete and demonstrate to the students that anything is possible when you set goals, work hard, and believe in yourself.

Ranging in size from just seven to 97 students, these schools were grateful for the opportunity to meet Rebecca, as rural schools often miss out on similar opportunities provided to those in urban areas. Needless to say, the students had stacks of questions for Rebecca and were lining up for autographs at the conclusion of her presentation.

Like these students, Rebecca grew up in rural Taranaki and went to a small country school with only seven other students (two of whom were her brother and sister). Rebecca picked up rowing at the age of 16 and it wasn't until she was 21 that she qualified for the New Zealand Rowing Team and started setting goals that would eventually see her reach the London Olympics. Through her presentation, Rebecca drove home the message that she didn't always know she would be an Olympian, however once she realized her passion for rowing and continued to set herself goals to get to the next level, she continued to see the results. It was evident this message resonated with the students and they were interested in drawing connections between Rebecca's childhood and their own. 'Did you have calf day at school?' 'What's your favorite tractor?' 'Do you prefer town or country?' asked the students.

Olympic Rower, Rebecca Scown, presentation in New Zealand with IVHQ

Likewise, our Founder and Executive Director, Dan Radcliffe also attended a small rural school in Taranaki with less than 20 students. Dan developed the IVHQ Athletes in Schools program to provide local schools with presentations from top-level New Zealand athletes like Rebecca. These athletes donate their time to speak about their backgrounds and sports, providing interactive presentations and Q&A sessions for the students. The ultimate goal of the program is to inspire and encourage young people to become engaged in sport and fitness and foster confidence and determination across all aspects of life.

The Q&A session was certainly a highlight for many of the students, with questions covering everything from 'How many Weet-bix can you eat?' to 'What's it like to be famous?' Many students were also intrigued to learn how many countries Rebecca has visited with rowing and where she hangs all her medals!

In additional to taking turns at wearing Rebecca's 400 gram bronze medal, one lucky student from each school had the opportunity to model Rebecca's Olympic rowing suit, which saw her across the line in London. One student even made our local newspaper for his modelling gig!

Olympic Rower, Rebecca Scown, in Taranaki, New Zealand

Back in Kenya, Rebecca prepared a presentation with her rowing partner Juliette Haigh to share within schools in Nairobi. Rebecca recalls, "We took a generator and sheet off the bed to display the short slide show we had prepared to teach the students about New Zealand and rowing, which something they had never encountered before. They didn't know what rowing was, so it was good to have videos and photos to illustrate what we were talking about. The kids were really enthusiastic and got really into the presentation. It was quite interesting to see their reactions, they loved the videos because they don’t see those very often and they were blown away by the footage we had of New Zealand. They didn’t know much about the Olympics, but there was a runner, Ezekiel Kemboi from Kenya, who had won a Gold medal in the 2012 Olympics, so we would try and compare with what he had achieved to explain what we did. They don’t come into contact with many athletes, whereas in New Zealand sports is such an important part of our culture, so they had never really had the opportunity to think that sports could be part of your future."

Olympic Rower, Rebecca Scown, volunteering in Kenya with IVHQ

A huge thanks goes out to Rebecca for donating her time to make the IVHQ Athletes in School program possible (and putting up with my terrible navigation skills in driving us between schools).

We look forward to seeing Rebecca reach her next goal in qualifying for the next Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro!

To learn more about Rebecca's experience volunteering in Kenya, check out this interview with Rebecca.

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