Monday, April 23, 2012

It is the opinion of More Than a Game that football can unite and be a vehicle for positive change  all over the world. This has been our first-hand experience in countless countries around the globe and was the driving force behind the creation of this website.

We are also big believers in synchronicity - those single events or 'coincidences' that occur together in a meaningful way and, if acted upon, lead to positive change. The reason MTAG mentions Synchronicity is because through it we have become aware of the excellent work of an NGO called 'The Collective'. 

The Collective is a not-for-profit organisation placing and supporting talented and enthusiastic volunteers in challenging projects around Sierra Leone. MTAG has become a big fan of the good work carried out by this organisation and would like to champion its projects now and in the future. 

We have invited Joe Coggins, who volunteered in Sierra Leone, to guest blog for MTAG and to tell us about his experiences:

Guest blog by Joe Coggins telling of his experiences in Sierra Leone:

“You are going where? To work for who?”

Sierra Leone.

Craig Bellamy.  Yes, that Craig Bellamy.

Placed by social enterprise The Collective Sierra Leone – which matches volunteers with charities in the West African nation – I packed my bags and left England in early January. The challenge was to work as a consultant for the Liverpool and Wales star’s pioneering football foundation.

Started over three years ago, the Craig Bellamy Foundation (CBF) is unique. It runs a national boys football league for under-14s, and the first female league in Sierra Leone, for girls under-18. 2,000 players. Over 50 teams.  

Those excelling graduate to the Bellamy academy, a complex dedicated to footballing excellence, boasting one of only two grass pitches in the country (the other is the national stadium). Top performers here graduate to professional teams and scholarships at western universities.

However, despite its football credentials, the priority of the CBF is not the game. It is education and community development, in what remains, despite its natural beauty, one of the least developed countries in the world.

The structure of the CBF league is crucial. Two simple rules apply: (i) Players can only take part in matches if they attend school (ii) Each team has to complete a minimum of two community projects every month. This is reflected in the league’s points system, with equally weighting for match results, school attendance, projects and fair play.

The impact is there for all to see. School attendance for CBF players is over 90% compared to a national average of around 30%. Over 600 community improvement projects have been completed since 2009.

In addition to supporting young people, the Foundation also employs more than 100 Sierra Leone nationals. Each team is run by a local manager and coach. The Foundation’s partnership with The Collective Sierra Leone sees these staff given weekly workshops, to build their professional skills.

The CBF is highly respected in Sierra Leone. Walk down a street with a manager, coach or group of players and you are accompanied by chants of “Bellamy, Bellamy”. And it is not just among the football fanatics that it finds its popularity. Government, local business, media and NGOs have all supported the Foundation’s work. Parents, many of them at first skeptical about their children being taken away from household duties, also sing its praises. “You are the only people who tell me if my child is going to school” was recurring feedback at a recent parents evening in the city of Makeni.

And Bellamy himself? Given his persona it is unsurprising to find out that he is no silent partner. He has a hands-on approach, which has been fundamental to the Foundation’s success. As well as personal investment of over seven figures and counting, weekly contact with staff and regular visits means every aspect of the Foundation is shaped by his exacting standards. 

Sierra Leone remains politically complex, underdeveloped, with poverty and corruption rife. What is most striking is the lack of opportunities for young people. Subsistence is the watchword. 

However, it is a beautiful country. The people are enthusiastic and welcoming. Football is a religion. 

And through football and education the horizons of a small, but ever growing group of young people are starting to broaden. For this the Craig Bellamy Foundation must be commended. And it must remain committed to its cause if its good work to date is to have a lasting impact. 

You can read more about The Collective and find out how you can volunteer by following this link.

Read more about the projects we like.