Maximo was right. It’s 7am on Saturday morning and children from all over Dar es Salaam are assembling at the Tanzanian Football Federation’s artificial turf pitch. Children from as young as six and up to twelve arrive carrying their boots and water bottles, ready for a morning training session.
TFF trainers start working with the older children, Christian heads off to play keepie-uppie with the youngest, while Blaise and Andrew jump in with corner practice for the rest. Blaise’s goalkeeping prowess is soon receiving plenty of praise and the children ask him if he’s a professional. It’s hard for him to conceal his pride at the very thought of this.
Blaise seems genuinely touched by the passion and commitment of the children and, as the session comes to close, asks whether the children can join us at the Uhuru Stadium for the seven-a-side tournament that has been organised for local schoolkids. It’s a deal — they will all be coming along.
“The most important book of my generation was ‘The Joy of Sex’ but if I were to write a book, I’d call it ‘The Joy of Football'”
— Bob Munro, MYSA Founder and Chairman
In the world of football for development, the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) needs little introduction. Nominated twice for a Nobel Prize, this organisation which began humbly in the impoverished Mathare slum has touched the lives of more than 150,000 people in Nairobi. It is recognised throughout the world as a model for how sport can have a positive impact in a disadvantaged community.
John Ndichu Ng’ethe proudly stands in front of an impressive trophy cabinet. He has come through the ranks at MYSA from youth project participant to youth leader to his current post as PR Manager. He tells us in detail and from experience about how the organisation works and what the results have been. MYSA offers us inspiration and encouragement. We recommend checking out their website for the full story.
After hearing their story, we tell the story of The Ball to a packed room. And then it’s on to the reason for our visit, another unified game — a youth team from Mathare United (yes, they have a professional club with players drawn exclusively from MYSA) versus a unified team of Special Olympians, Kickabout and ourselves. Mathare United are clearly superb footballers and toy with the unified team, passing accurately and scoring freely.
Not even the introduction of our ringer, former USA Womens World Cup winner Lorrie Fair, stems the tide. Fair’s more than fair though, and gets a huge cheer from the girls on the touchline — who are clearly impressed by her skill — every time she gets the ball.
The final scoreline is a fitting testament to the success of MYSA. There is no shame in being beaten by the better team. Losing gracefully is one of the most important lessons in the art of taking part.
Right to Dream (R2D) is a charity that offers hand-picked, underprivileged young Ghanaian footballers a fully-funded, five-year education on and off the field. It empowers them to believe in themselves by encouraging them to emulate their African heroes. R2D believes that the boys will one day invest back into the communities and the continent they have come from.
CEO Anna Hegley tells us that R2D has a holistic approach to education which is aimed at nurturing the student, the athlete and the child. What she doesn’t tell us is that the curriculum at R2D has football at its very core. Headmaster George Jamieson, from Paisley, just outside of Glasgow, says that “the kids don’t know where Paisley is. They don’t know about Kilmarnock or Queen of the South but they know all about the Old Firm — they know who Rangers and Celtic are. You see, our curriculum is a nice marriage of what they are really interested in (football) and the academic side.” Everything at R2D is related to football. “The more you can integrate football into the curriculum the more alive it becomes and the more children will take hold of it and the more they will learn.” “Take mathematics” says Doc George, as he’s affectionately known here, “The ball is round so it is a sphere. It’s a globe and you can start taking radius off of it, and so you can talk about physics. If you kick the ball on its side why does it go in that trajectory?”
What about geography? The World Cup provides a great opportunity for the boys to learn about the world through the World Cup. One of my first memories as a child growing up in New Zealand was of a giant 1982 World Cup poster hanging at home on our kitchen wall. I can vividly remember the flags of the 24 competing nations. I can remember watching World Cup games and learning for the first time about countries like Brazil and Honduras and I can remember the goals that Paolo Rossi scored to take Italy to the World Cup. Indeed, my desire to see the world was perhaps sparked by the bedtime geography football questions posed by my dad to my brother and me.
The kids at R2D are learning about the world through the World Cup too. Each of them is responsible for researching one country that has qualified for the 2010 World Cup and it is their job to inform the others about that country: politically, culturally, socially — even eating habits. For example, what is the national dish in New Zealand? The kids then have to prepare and cook the food from that country for their school mates.
The classrooms of the school are all about empowering the youngsters to take control of their own destiny. Each classroom is named after a black person who has made a huge difference for the black community. “We want the boys to know that they have got champions out there. There are people out there they can emulate”, said Doc George. Those heroes are people like Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Mohammed Ali and Martin Luther King. Some of the graduates have gone on to win scholarships to universities in the United States of America, others have signed professional contracts at top European clubs. The boys may come from isolated communities in a small, underdeveloped country in an enormous continent but with an education from R2D they are on the right path to achieving success on and off the field.
The Ball is round and so is the earth.