Between February and April this year I volunteered on a water and sanitation project in Tanzania on behalf of the charity Raleigh International, on the UK Government programme of ICS (a great programme to do if you’re 18+ and thinking of having a gap year). Here I lived and worked in the remote village of Nkhome, an hour’s drive from the country’s capital Dodoma and one thing that struck me whilst I was there was the power that sport has around the world.
There were five main things that I witnessed, whilst in Nkhome, that the power of sport helped to do: to unite, to entertain, to help, to earn money and to comfort.
In the village the two main sports were football and netball, played by males and females respectively. The village had a football team, which would play neighboring villages and sub-villages as often as they could. These football games would attract big crowds and united the community around the football pitch in the centre of the village. The two primary schools and one secondary school also had football and netball teams and their matches would again unite the community and provide a form of entertainment for the children and adults alike.
The power of sport in the village also helped us to do our work as volunteers more effectively. In development, to make sure your project and message works as well as it can, the most important thing is to integrate and get on with your community, otherwise the work you do is near enough pointless – if your community doesn’t respect you, they won’t listen to you. With this in mind the village football team were a massive help to us! Luke, one of my fellow UK volunteers, quickly made friends with a couple of the football players and soon started playing week in week out for them. This earned us the respect of the community much faster and hopefully made our lasting impact more profound.
This really made me appreciate the power of sport, something I had not really thought about before. Despite not being able to communicate with Luke, as only a couple of the football team spoke English, they welcomed him with open arms. Sport really is universal and connects people.
Nkhome was home to 7000 people and had no electricity, no tarmac roads and only four taps distributing clean water but the power of sport enabled one man to make a living; he had a TV run off solar power and would charge people 300 Tanzanian shillings (the equivalent of 11p) to go and watch Premier League, Champions League and La Liga matches every week. His living room would be packed to the rafters of men cheering on their chosen team, enabling them to escape from their daily problems for 90 minutes.
The final thing that I noticed about the power of sport was its ability to comfort people. The village football matches gave the men who played pride and the younger villagers people to look up to and copy. But trying to vaguely link this article to rugby, a way that the power of sport personally affected me was receiving numerous 6 Nations newspaper cuttings that my Mum sent me in the post, which I shared with the other rugby loving volunteers. This really cheered me up and comforted me whenever I felt low.
Nelson Mandela, who’s autobiography I read whilst living in Nkhome, once said “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair”.
The 6th April 2014 was declared by the UN General Assembly as the first ever ‘International Day of Sport for Development and Peace’ and I believe that sport can really help to bring about positive change in development. The creation of this day shows signs that organisations are noticing the power that sport has around the world.
An interesting article I read online recently commented that “Football is a common passion shared by the people in the throes of poverty but also those who have the resources to make a significant difference” and this is definitely something we should all think about.