Google+ Blueprint for Football: Putting Africa on the Ball

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Putting Africa on the Ball

Zambia's victory in the African Nations Cup provided one of the most emotional moments of 2012; a victory borne of the desire to honour the memory of the team that perished in a plane crash nineteen years earlier - an accident that took place just off the shore of Gabon where the final was being held - as much as it was out of talent.  At long last, the nation could celebrate with it footballers, not mourn the passing of its fallen heroes.

Thanks to the British based initiative Africa On The Ball, football will keep on bringing joy for at least a part of the population where the organisation's stated aim is "to use football as a vehicle for social development, educating African boys and girls in the process."

Andrew Jenkin, one Africa On The Ball's founders, goes into more detail explaining what they're doing.  "What we've done in Zambia was to create a team, raise funds for it in the UK, enter it into a league, hire coaches to train the boys three times a week.  We've actually put them through coaching courses and pay them a little each week for their time, thus increasing employment in the area."

Of course, there's more than football to it.  "We profile all the players and identify those who no longer have parents or guardians that are able to pay for schooling and put those players up for sponsorship. They will pay their sponsorship off in kind through litter picking in the community or coaching younger teams and we currently have one player Mabvuto who is being sponsored to finish his grade 11."

The seed of the project was planted when Andrew visited Zambia as part of UKSport's IDEALS (International Development through Excellence And Leadership in Sport) project which was run through the University of Stirling.

"I went out to Zambia in 2009 as part of the project which aims to use sport to teach life skills such as team work and leadership which I found inspiring."

"I was invited back as part of the project in 2010 and spent 4 months coordinating it with a fellow Stirling student. It was here that I realised the project was having a great impact in the lives of many underprivileged kids and saw there was an opportunity to try and expand on it as the project only really worked with school kids and runs from June to September. I thought there was an opportunity to try and create and set up a team as people in Zambia struggle to get finances together to be able to compete and travel to games in a competitive league."

"So myself and my partner Elena Sarra set up the team in the community of Kalingalinga where I had worked as part of the IDEALS project and aimed to use similar skills to work on a more sustainable basis using coaches who knew how to use the team as a means to educating and empowering the players."

"We believe the role football plays in Africa is so key in many people's lives," he continues, explaining why they chose to focus on this sport. "It creates a fantastic opportunity to engage people with an idea and supporting a local team is something everything can buy into. All the community turn out for the team's home games and by creating role models of our players, we have to spread positive messages about the importance of education through the players."

"Its also particularly important for the boys playing on the team as they can take so much from it which can aid their life in other areas - not only through the chance for tuition fee sponsorship, but through training as a team and learning discipline, leadership, determination and teamwork."

"Also by playing and training in the team it gives them something to do rather than get involved in drinking and drugs which is a common problem for teenagers with else in life to engage with. For example, one of our coaches Kelvin had developed a drink problem before he was approached to coach the team - he has since dealt with his problem as he focuses all his attention into managing the side and has aspirations to become a professional football coach later in his life."

"Also, because of the global impact of football and its finance and the fact clubs are looking further and further into Africa for talent, establishing a team is a great opportunity for the community to develop income through an academy such as this."

Having set up the club which plays in the Zambian Lusaka League two years ago, they're now looking to push on. "We're now at the stage where we're looking to develop the club to that of a fair-play academy model so if any of the players move onto bigger clubs and there is a fee involved, it goes back into the development of the community in initiatives like waste bins, or development of sewage works. How the money is spent will be decided by a council that is to be established and the money will be spent democratically. We also aim to develop income streams through many other aspects of the team."

"On our wish list is a team bus which we will a) cut out our monthly costs of hiring a bus from other areas for the team's games and b) provide a source of income for the community as it can be ran as a business when the team don't have matches. In the future we'd also like to bring in a used 3G pitch which the boys can train on and we can rent out as another source of income."

"We've also just confirmed the club has become a part of the Sandlanders Football Network which is essentially like an African equal of Supporters Direct. By becoming a community owned club, we can engage more members of the community and assist them in areas such as education - the team is a way of grabbing their attention, engaging them and helping them and consequently the community. We'll be running workshops in the future which will help with issues such as social enterprise and IT literacy."

Ultimately, however, this remains a footballing venture which, as in any other place, is reliant on the level of coaching.  "Our coaches are pivotal in everything we do. They need to understand what the project is about and filter that through to the team so they act responsibly. We're extremely lucky to have the quality of coaches we do as every day they educate on how to be better players but more importantly how to be better people."

"Our project manager Kelvin Chasuaka (a different from the manager Kelvin) is one of my inspirations. At the age of just 15 he became an orphan with little to no possessions and has become a cornerstone of the community who everyone looks up to. He's always worked several jobs at a time and has a thorough knowledge of using sport for development which he shares with the rest of the coaching staff. Kelvin oversees the whole project including the team, but also education sponsorship, community outreach and other duties."

"Our other staff includes Kelvin (the team manager) who is responsible for results on the pitch, Gordon who is the team's goalkeeper coach and James Banda who is the Assistant Manager. There is also Bernard who although is the same age as most of the team suffers from a growth deficiency  and is unable to play - but was encouraged by the players to help with other roles to create a sense of acceptance and equality which is important."

Another important quality is winning, something that they've been doing quite frequently following two back to back promotions.  "We're trying to apply a level of professionalism in everything we which isn't always the way it is done in Zambia. By creating a competitive team in a competitive league, we aim to instill a belief that everyone involved can achieve whatever they want with enough application. Winning can also create a sense of pride for everyone and unite people and communities."

"However, we also acknowledge winning isn't everything and there is room to help other people who are less concerned with playing in a competitive team hence the development of our outreach project which will deliver free coaching sessions in places like HIV/AIDS support groups, orphanages and other underprivileged areas of Africa."

A lot of Europeans who develop such initiatives are often viewed with skepticism since many are simply opportunists trying to make some easy money off the back of a sale of some players to Europe.  Yet, whilst Andrew admits that they do hope to have some players who are good enough to move on, that isn't the main aim.

"Our aim to is help develop all members of the team and setup as players and people so that one day when they go into a new walk of life (either still as a player or into a new job) they're able to take those skills with them. However, turning the club into a fair play academy is a large part of the project long term future and could prove to be a vital source of income for the development of Kalingalinga."

Doing so won't be easy.  "The biggest difficulty we face is trying to put things into a time scale as things in Africa doesn't always run on time! We also are constantly looking for ways to raise funds as everything we've invested into the project has come through fundraisers and people's generosity - we to make the project financially sustainable for the long term future."

Even so, they remain ambitious.  "Once we are comfortable with the model we have created and it is financially sustainable without our assistance, we'll be looking to replicate the model in other areas we feel we can benefit and aid."

People can help Africa On The Ball by getting involved with a community share deal that is to be offered in the near future.  They can also donate a ball to the project - finding enough balls is a struggle - through Alive and Kicking who are an excellent social enterprise.  More information can be found on the Africa On The Ball website.

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