YASAL is an association which aims to use football to aid social development among the most deprived people in Sierra Leone. Read on for more information about YASAL and their invaluable work.
Standing 1.60 metres tall, Saa Moses Lamin is a softly spoken man who never seems to lose his cool. However, his mild-mannered demeanour masks a steely determination. As National Coordinator of the association Youth in Action in Sierra Leone (YASAL), he is constantly on the move trying to drum up aid, subsidies and forge new partnerships.
YASAL was created in the country's north-eastern district of Kono, during the civil war years. The rural region, whose mining resources afforded it crucial strategic importance, was among those hardest-hit by the conflict that ravaged Sierra Leone between 1991 and 2000. The rebels set up base there, laying communities to waste and driving away the inhabitants, who sought refuge in the neighbouring slums.
The situation called for a different approach, and football offered one that was universal. "We supplied the young people with plastic sandals and balls and encouraged them to organise their own football matches within the refugee camps. That is how it all started and it has worked a treat, as football has brought the people together."
Saa, originally from Kono, did his best to bring solidarity between the various groups of refugees and instigate dialogue aimed at encouraging these unfortunate war victims to rebuild their shattered lives. "But the wounds were still deep and fresh. They had experienced a huge amount of stress, and it was very hard for people to sit down and agree on at a plan of action," he explains.
The end of the war did not mean that there was no more work to be done. Those people who had been displaced were greatly traumatised and many had lost everything. "We launched a study to find out if the process set in motion during the war should be continued. It very quickly emerged that there was a vital need for a permanent organisation. Hence you have Youth in Action - Sierra Leone," says Saa.
"We use football as a way into a community (editor's note: a slum or township), as we know that football can be used to help youngsters live and work as a group, to act collectively. This sport encourages initiative, discipline and respect for others, and restores hope," Saa asserts. Within the various communities in Kono, YASAL has set up 18 football clubs for young people, six for children and also eight for women. In Freetown, the association works together with existing clubs from eight communities, including Kroobay (link) and George Brook (link).
"Alongside the tournaments and matches, we get young people together for more or less formal discussions on various vital subjects such as AIDS, and problems like drugs, prostitution and violence. And we make use of these moments to set up projects in the community." In the Kroobay slum, for example, a rolling system for cleaning the football pitch has been put in place.
The association helps as much as it can, although their good work is hampered by a serious shortage of resources. "In Freetown, we have problems finding pitches. In general, we lack shirts, balls and boots. We're also going to need permanent coaches, as the current ones are volunteers and can't be available full-time," Saa explains. As devoted as he is to the youth of his country, Saa knows that his contribution is but a drop in the ocean of misery that swamps Sierra Leone. But he is not about to give up. "Our slogan is 'Determination, hard work and commitment'. The message could scarcely be any clearer..."