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September 2009: Black Eyed Peas are terrorising the charts, and the nation, with “I Gotta Feeling”. Gordon Brown is fighting for political survival in the face of a resurgent Conservative party led by David Cameron. And following an idle summer (I've still never forgiven Domino's Pizza for ignoring my job application) I gathered with some pals in Sheffield to catch-up and compare horror stories of life back at home.

Over scampi and chips (£2) and drinks (£1) we talked of a friend of a friend who had managed to do something useful with his summer - namely travelling to Africa to support a charity project building a school in Kenya. We were struck by reports that the kids (and adults) he'd encountered had only wanted to talk about one thing with a young Englishman - football. Apparently, the village would gather on weekends to watch Premier League games and would demand to know your team and your favourite players. Inspired, we wondered - surely with a vast network of keen young footballers around us at University we could find a way to share our love of the game in other corners of the world?

One thing led to another, and that night "Afrikit" was born. Our mission was simple - we would seek to collect football kit locally and send it to homes in African communities, with travelling charity workers as the couriers.

Over the next three years Afrikit was transformed into a major charity project through a bit of hard graft and plenty of good fortune. We went from collecting kit door-to-door to having donation points at Decathlon sports stores nationwide. We got great media coverage, including being interviewed on Sky Sports News in a decrepit student house living room following our successful capitalisation on the Carroll/Torres transfer of January 2011 (top lines: don't bin the replica shirts of heroes that hurt you, send them to us!). And most importantly we were able to identify and partner with a range of amazing charities and social enterprises to ensure that kit we donated was put to good use. One such partnership was with Kick4Life, a charity and social enterprise who were using football to reach vulnerable children in Maseru, Lesotho, and raise awareness of HIV/AIDs in a country, which sadly still holds the second highest prevalence of the disease in the world. Thanks to the generosity and willingness of so many to give some impetuous youths the time of day, we managed to send thousands of football shirts and other kit to loving homes across the African continent.

Back to September 2022. Today Afrikit is Kits4Causes, going from strength to strength in our original mission to share our love of the beautiful game, now on a global basis. Though I've had no formal involvement for near-on a decade I like to keep close to developments (it helps that I play football every week with Chris, whom we handed the reigns over to upon graduation...) and swore one day that I'd fulfill the pilgrimage by taking up the role of courier and see our handiwork for myself - a dream that was of course delayed by covid, among other things.

As my partner and I planned our long-awaited trip to South Africa, the thought crossed my mind to contact our old partners at Kick4Life. Amazingly, I found they had significantly expanded their charity & social enterprise operations and were now running a large centre for their football outreach programmes, inclusive of a hotel and restaurant which generate revenue for their work. I requested a large shipment of kit from the Kits4Causes team and booked our stay.

Arriving in Lesotho 24 hours after leaving London we recharged our batteries in the Kick4Life hotel to the smell of sweet bonfires burning in the distance and the next morning awoke to the sounds of kids laughing and screaming. We could see on pitches below that two coaches had their work cut out trying to cajole a gaggle of tiny boys and girls to make space, play the ball and spread the play, while the kids delightedly chased after the ball en masse.

The next two days were a blend of completely joyous and genuinely moving. Stephen Moerane Kick4Life's Finance Director, had kindly come in on his day off to receive the donated kits, and to give us a tour of the facility, including what may well be Lesotho's only AstroTurf pitch. As we watched the kids playing under the scorching midday sun, Stephen explained how the charity currently runs several educational & tutoring programmes, using access to their football facilities to incentivise attendance and to help combat social and community issues in the nation. They have to date had over 200,000 young people participate in their health education and life skills courses, conducted 25,000+ HIV tests with follow-up support, and guided 500+ young people into further education and employment.

Their focus flexes to the needs of the community as needed. HIV/AIDs testing is no longer carried out at the centre, though education and referrals to clinicians remain, and we were particularly moved to hear of the work the charity is doing to combat gender-based violence. This is a global issue, but particularly pronounced in Lesotho with Stephen explaining to us that most, if not all of the kids present that day (some as young as five) will have been exposed to some level of this in their homes or communities already. In that light, it was particularly poignant to see women and young girls using the centre facilities also and learning of the success of the K4L women's team and current initiatives promoting gender equality. We pledged to continue supporting the charity in its mission by raising awareness at home - there are fundraising options set out on the K4L website to support their social development programmes.

It's impossible to overstate the role football has had in my life, from making friends, bonding with my family or just getting outside. I have been so lucky to get a chance to combine it with my other passion -getting to know other cultures and celebrating the common ground between us as well as what makes us unique. As my partner and I enjoyed kicking a ball around with some local kids until way past the floodlights coming on (game of choice - try and dribble past the tall clumsy foreign guy) it was impossible not to reflect on the observations we made in that Sheffield pub all those years ago - football always has been, and always will be more than just a game.

*(Shortly after our stay, the K4L team wrote to let us know our kits had been distributed to the women's and youth's team - see pictures below)


https://www.kick4life.org/
http://www.kits4causes.org/
The K4L women’s team with shirts donated via Kits4Causes

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