Launched as the official campaign of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, FIFA's 20 Centres for 2010 initiative was drawn up with the aim of building 20 Football for Hope Centres across Africa to promote public health, education and football in disadvantaged communities. To date, six centres have been opened and a seventh is due to be completed in Burundi this December, when the Swiss association Terre des Hommes will take over its running in concert with local partners Giriyuja.
Thanks to this project, some of the 2,500 children living on the streets of the country's capital city, Bujumbura, will benefit from care and support designed to help them overcome their day-to-day problems and find their place in society.
"Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world," explained Jerome Combes, Terre des Hommes' representative in Burundi. "Only Niger and Congo DR rank lower according to the United Nations Development Programme. With more than 80 per cent of the population living in rural areas, which points to a very significant rural exodus in the future, the principal requirement for children is access to basic services like food, accommodation, health care and education – especially for children who have left their families and have become child labourers, domestic servants or who live on the streets."
As so often in this type of environment, football is one of the rare activities that allows youngsters to forget their everyday predicament. Because of that, it also serves as the best possible tool for promoting their personal development and helping them hope for a better future.
"Football will be the unifying theme of the centre," said Combes, who has more than 12 years' experience in development programmes across Africa, most notably in Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and Sudan. "Giriyuja are already using football as a tool of social development through health education classes and outreach activities. The goal of the centre will be to aid the socialisation of vulnerable children through community-based socio-educational activities centred around football."
Social integration through football
Located in the neighbourhood of Kabondo, the centre will help between 50 and 100 children per day once it opens its doors at the end of the year, offering activities to children living on the streets as well as children from the local area and schools.
In a country ravaged by civil wars and the AIDS virus, the priority for Terre des Hommes will be to facilitate access to the basic services of health and education, with the centre boasting a consultation room and offering literacy classes in Kirundi and French in addition to English lessons. The organisation is likewise intent on using football to promote social integration.
As for Giriyuja, they have been working with street children for the last six years, organising activities from a freight container next to a football pitch. Thanks to the Football For Hope project, this temporary structure will be transformed into a genuine community centre with the aim of bolstering activities that use football at their core.
These will include training sessions, refereeing courses and physical education lessons, but the main thrust will be to give confidence to children in serious difficulty and with no real future prospects, not to mention vulnerable to the risks of exploitation and trafficking.
While these initiatives have a long-term goal, the centre will also be conscious of the need to help children with their immediate problems. As a result, it will feature a listening service for the vulnerable or traumatised, allowing them to benefit from care provided by psychologists and social workers. It will also operate a reference system to address the individual needs of each child in accordance with his or her specific circumstances.
A shining example
Although FIFA conceived, launched and is financing the programme, the local authorities in Bujumbura and Burundi's Ministry of Sports have provided the land where the centre is being built. Responsibility for the day-to-day management, meanwhile, will fall to Giriyuja and their partners.
"Various bodies will be working with us," explained Combes. "Namely, the Bujumbura town council; the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture; the Ministry of National Solidarity; the Burundi Football Federation; the local authority in Kabondo; UNICEF; several NGOs; the local schools; and Kabondo's football club."
Nicknamed 'the little Switzerland of Africa', Burundi is familiar territory for Terre des Hommes. The Swiss association has been active in the country since 1985, endeavouring to provide aid to youngsters in need as part of its overarching mission to help children, and in particular those affected by conflict, war and natural disasters. For their part, local collaborators Giriyuja have been active since 2006 and work to protect and defend the rights of children in difficulty.
There can no better example of the success and dedication of these organisations than Wenceslas Nyabenda, who currently works as a technical coordinator for Giriyuja after living on the streets himself as a child and benefiting from the aid programmes of Terre des Hommes.
"He was a street child and was welcomed into the Terre des Hommes centre in 1998, when he took part in a training programme," said Combes, who studied at the University of Franche-Comté. "He became a big brother of the centre and was trained to become a case worker, a role he has held since 2006. The 'Street Children' programme then became the local NGO Giriyuja and Wenceslas has been working for them since 2007."
Due to that background, it is easy to imagine Nyabenda's immense satisfaction when the Football For Hope Centre sees the light of day in Kabondo this December. The opening will mark just the beginning, however, as Terre des Hommes and Giriyuja are already looking for finance to further develop the centre, with plans in place to add a school programme, canteen and accommodation centre.
"In terms of its long-term impact, the centre should be able to help children leave their situation on the streets by offering them solutions adapted to the different problems they face," added Combes, his outlook decidedly optimistic for the future.