Paul OsborneIf, last month, you'd told me I would be flying to Zambia for my first international trip as a journalist I'd have called you crazy. If you'd told me that in a month and five days I'd be sat on a plane home, reflecting on the most remarkable trip of my life, I'd have locked you up and thrown away the key.

But here I am. Sat staring out of the rain splattered window (yes it rains here in Africa too, you know) with two elderly African women sat holding hands in front of me, reminding me of the unique sense of unity that I have seen nowhere else in the world.

Now, I'll be honest with you, when I received the phone call telling me that I would be flying to Zambia five days hence I was scared.

Not about travelling half way around the world, nor the fact that I hadn't the time to receive the "advised" inoculations my friends and family were urging me to get.

I was scared that when I eventually made it to Zambia, and stood amongst the Presidents, secretary generals, coaches and leaders of Southern Africa judo, that I wouldn't belong.

I was worried that they would take one look at the young white English boy, who hadn't a clue about the culture or history of their continent, and they would turn their noses up.

This feeling, stupid as it may be, ebbed its way into the back of my mind, quietly wading its way through my thoughts during the long 15 hour flight to the South of Africa. It stayed there until I was stood in the queue for passport control at the airport in Zambia's capital city, Lusaka.

As I stood there, looking bewildering around me at this completely new world, I overheard my name in a conversation in front of me. Confused, I gathered the courage to butt in. "You're looking for Paul Osborne? From insidethegames?" I mumbled, dressed fittingly in my newly acquired insidethegames t-shirt.

To my surprise their eyes light up. A smile broke across their faces as the President of the Zambian Judo Federation, Alfred Foloko, alongside his secretary general Mavuto Nguni and South Africa Judo President Temba Hlasho, welcomed me to Zambia, laughed and joked as if I was an old friend and accepted me as only an African could. With warmth in their eyes, and a smile on their face.

I had made it to Zambia, I had met just three of the 20 participants in this IJF Development Project, but already I felt my worries drift blissfully from my mind.

A group of Zambians showing their warmth and kindness as they help push our car after it broke down outside the workshop ©ITGA group of Zambians showing their warmth and kindness as they help push our car after it broke down outside the workshop ©ITG

Now, before I continue, I would just like to thank the International Judo Federation and insidethegames. Without whom this visit would not have been possible. I would also like to thank Robert Van de Walle, Alain Massart, Daniel Lascau and Andrei Bondor. Not only did they teach me an impossible amount during the five days I was in Africa, but they did it with a friendliness and desire, seen by very few people in this world.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, I would like to thank each member of the nine National Federations that took part in the Project. These people showed a hunger, a drive, and a determination to succeed that I could hardly believe. They taught me everything about their culture, their people and their countries and did it all with a warmth that I did not expect to see. They made my time in Zambia a once in a lifetime experience and for that I will be forever grateful.

The unity and camaraderie of the delegates from each Federation was clear throughout the Development Project ©ITGThe unity and camaraderie of the delegates from each Federation was clear throughout the Development Project ©ITG

On the first day of the project, Robert gave each Federation delegate the chance to tell us all why they were here, and what the proudest moment of their life was.

I was surprised when I was handed the microphone, and, although I knew why I was there, I couldn't think of anything to say for the latter.

Looking back now, I know that if that microphone were to be passed to me again I would describe getting on that plane at London - Heathrow, travelling to Zambia, and jumping headfirst into this experience. An experience that I will remember for a lifetime.

I feel many people have the wrong impression of Africa. Even I had my doubts as I was furiously scrolling through page after page of safety tips and hazards during the few days before my visit.

But, after sitting and observing the sessions by Robert, Alain, Daniel and Andrei, and seeing the hunger on the faces of each participant, I knew I had been hugely mistaken. To see the desire to learn, the greed for knowledge and willingness to listen was inspiring. I knew that these people were not just here for a free hand out. They wanted to gain the knowledge that was on offer and use it to help further develop their region, not just in judo, but in life.

Now, it would be inexcusable for me not to talk about the IJF Development Project, be it that this was the reason for my trip to Southern Africa.

The Project, the first of its kind, was an opportunity for the Presidents, secretary generals and coaches of the nine National Judo Federations which make up the Southern African Judo Confederation - Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique and Seychelles - to procure the knowledge and understanding of what it is to be a leader; how this leadership can be used to help develop a Federation; and how these Federations can learn to organise a succession of successful competitions and events.

The first two days were led by five-time Olympian Robert Van de Walle along with his friend and colleague Alain Massart, a professor at the University of Coimbra in Portugal.

I've thought a lot about how best to describe Robert. He is a man that lives, breathes and sleeps judo. A giant of a man but one that moves with such elegance and grace. Like a rhythmic dancer he glides across the tatami, leaving you gaping in awe as he demonstrates technique after technique with the nimbleness and eloquence of a man half his age. His passion for judo is evident in every word that he speaks, with his success on the mat matched only by his drive to make the world a better place for those around him.

Where Robert is the engine that sends the machine hurtling towards its goal, Alain is the wheel that steers it seamlessly from turn to turn. Used repeatedly as a crash test dummy by his colleague, his extremely sharp mind is made clear each time he speaks. His knowledge of judo is in a league of its own whilst his friendly manner leaves you feeling warm and at ease.

Robert Van de Walle and Alain Massart's modules were a mixture of hands on workshops and lecture-styled seminars ©ITGRobert Van de Walle and Alain Massart's modules were a mixture of hands on workshops and lecture-styled seminars ©ITG

Throughout their two day workshop, the pair led a series of sessions designed to instil belief and inspire growth in each of the participants. A mix of lecture style seminars and hands on activities brought an exciting blend of both learning and enjoyment.

The final day saw Daniel Lascau, the IJF's sport director and Andrei Bondor, chairman of the IJF Veteran's Commission; lead a seminar apiece revolving around the more practical aspects of a Federation's operations.

With Robert and Alain developing the delegate's leadership skills and providing the inspiration and drive needed to develop both themselves and their Federations, Daniel and Andrei used these new found beliefs and put them into practical use.

Andrei's presentation looked into the building, managing and functioning of a Federation. Providing a framework in which each participant could develop and grow their National Federation in order to harbour the greatest success possible.

Daniel then outlined the necessary steps needed to host a successful competition, providing a variety of ideas and suggestions for before, during and after a potential event.

Each module, from each of the four experts, provided the essence and structures needed to operate a successful Federation. The presentations flowed nicely between one another with the uniqueness of each speaker allowing for an enjoyable and interesting experience throughout.

Talking with many of the participants, I know that the speakers' innate ability to inspire and motivate left them with a renewed sense of belief and determination that they are sure to take back home to their Federations. Their desire to learn and hunger for knowledge made acknowledgement to this fact as they sat drinking in each droplet of information that was laid before them.

In the hope of not sounding too cheesy (although I get the overwhelming feeling that this border was crossed long ago) I would like to say that this experience, which has been a privilege for me to receive, has taught me a remarkable amount in just a short space of time.

It has opened my eyes to the world and shown me that unity and passion can be found even in the most surprising of places.

This experience has opened doors to new friendships for me as I got to know and admire the participants from across Southern Africa ©ITGThis experience has opened doors to new friendships for me as I got to know and admire the participants from across Southern Africa ©ITG

It has opened doors to new friendships and left me with memories that I shall cherish forever.

It has taught me that judo is not just a sport; it is a way of life.

That people do not just practise judo; they eat, sleep and breathe it.

And that judoka are not just a set of individuals, nor a gathering of people; it is a family, and a family I truly believe I am now a part of.

An old African proverb once read, "If you travel alone, you can travel fast. If you travel together, you will travel far," and, after just five days on this brilliant continent, I couldn't think of a better way to sum up my feelings.

Paul Osborne is a reporter for insidethegames. To follow him on Twitter click here.