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2013

Providing opportunity through sport

A glance at some of the initiatives around the world helping disadvantaged children empower themselves through sport.

Last Modified: 28 Jun 2013 15:47
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Sport in action provides coaching to around 10,000 children in Zambia every week [SIA]

Around the world, sport is used as a tool to help and empower disadvantaged children. Al Jazeera spoke with the organisers of NGOs, charities, and trusts in three very different areas of the world, where children are faced with vastly different and challenging problems.

Zambia

Steven wakes up at 7am every day and readies for a day of coaching football and teaching younger children life skills.

Without this focus, he says, he would still be on the streets.

Steven became involved with Sport in Action when he was a boy. Now a young adult, he happily works long days for Sport in Action (SIA), the NGO that gave him a fresh start in life.

"Honestly it’s hard to say what I would have been doing without Sport in Action," says Steven.

"They have given me shelter, supported my education, and now I am coaching people who experienced what I experienced on the streets."

"The use of sport as a tool for education is what gave me an opportunity to get educated about the dangers of drugs," he continues.

"I will always thank SIA for the life changing opportunity they have given me."

Founded in 1998, SIA has helped thousands of children deal with the stigma of HIV and AIDS, tackle poverty, and move away from drugs.

According to UNAIDS, about 680,000 orphans living in Zambia lost their parents to AIDS, with about 170,000 children aged under 14 are living with HIV.

SIA provides coaching to about 10,000 children across six districts of Zambia every week.

Sport creates and gives hope to those children who come from very challenging backgrounds … many are from broken homes, impoverished homes and poverty-stricken communities

Frankson Mushindu, Sport in Action,

"Sport creates and gives hope to those children who come from very challenging backgrounds. Most of our children are orphans whose parents were taken by AIDS," says executive director Frankson Mushindu.

"Many are from broken homes, impoverished homes and poverty-stricken communities. They are dealing with escalating child abuse, alcohol and drug abuse and violence against children."

Endemic poverty - 64 per cent of Zambia’s total population lives below the poverty line - and a lack of education often means children are at risk of spiraling into drug addiction.

"At SIA they learn how to avoid situations that put them at risk; understand what risky behaviour entails and learn how to manage or avoid risky situations," said Mushindu.

The programme also works with disabled children who are often rejected by society, and encourages girls to participate in sport – slowly addressing the social stigma associated with women in sport.

"It’s widely believed that the place for female children in Zambia is a kitchen not on a playing field," Mushindu notes.

"Parents feel uncomfortable with the sportswear that sports men and women put on."

Mumbai

In the sprawling slums of Mumbai, India, another group of children face a daily struggle to earn money and feed their families.

Thirteen-year-old Sadik works in his family’s pot-making business when he is not at school. Before Project Front Foot, he said, he would play with a piece of wood as a bat and without shoes on.

"If Project Front Foot did not exist, my family would not be able to afford proper kit, like shoes, and I would never have any coaching," he says.

The average monthly income of a family can be as low as $85, with various small tailors, pot-making businesses and other ventures littering their way through the slum.

The national obsession with cricket is, perhaps, more prevalent in the slums than anywhere else.

Boys snatch a few minutes to bowl stones or battered balls at shoeless friends wielding sticks or a broken bat.

This sight greeted cricket enthusiast Vic Mills on a visit to Dharavi in 2009, inspiring him to set up Project Front Foot, a charity that gives the children of Asia’s largest slum chance to play the sport with real equipment.

"Slum life is not for the faint-hearted. In such an environment kids grow up quickly with resourcefulness high on the ladder of personal development," says Mills.

Little or no sport is played in local schools, certainly not the ones in Dharavi. The potential spin-offs from a life skills perspective for the slum children involved in our programme are enormous

Vic Mills, Project Front Foot,

"Little or no sport is played in local schools, certainly not the ones in Dharavi The potential spin-offs from a life skills perspective for the slum children involved in our programme are enormous.

"It might be a little fanciful to think that the project could offer the kids an escape from slum life," he continues.

"Ten of our U18s have the chance to play adult cricket in and around Mumbai. If sufficiently talented, they may progress to representative cricket.

"Some are already earning money in and around Mumbai through coaching sessions."

London

The splendour of the London Olympics is still echoing through the UK’s capital a year after the Games finished.

Claire Bennett, a former fencer, England team captain and Commonwealth gold medal winner, narrowly missed out on an Olympic spot. After dedicating years to training for the 2012 games, she was at a loss when it came to what to do next.

"It is a privilege to have been an elite athlete and an honour to represent Great Britain. On a basic level I decided I wanted to give back," says Bennett.

Bennett found The Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust, which employs elite athletes to use their experiences in sport to get the country’s most at-risk youngsters back on track, as well as giving the athletes themselves an outlet after years of training come to an end.

A report by UK-based Homeless Link said that in just one month of 2012, 15,000 young people became homeless or were threatened with homelessness.

"I recently worked with a group of homeless young people," said Bennett.

"Many of them come from disadvantaged or broken backgrounds; some have suffered from physical or mental abuse. Their attitudes change as soon as you share your story with them, engage them and show them that you care.

"I have seen many grow in confidence and feel empowered to go on to find employment and fulfill their potential.

"When I think back at how much my mentors were there for me so unselfishly for my benefit – I am very grateful. Working for the Trust and giving back is important to me," she enthuses.

"I simply cannot imagine my life without sport."

For more information about the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy trust, visit http://www.dkhlegacytrust.org/

If you would like more details on the work of Project Front Foot visit  http://www.projectfrontfoot.org/

To find out more about Sport in Action, visit its website at http://www.sportinaction.org.zm/

Al Jazeera is not responsible for the content of external websites.

You can follow Philippa H Stewart on Twitter @Flip_Stewart

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