Herekoura is a simple word in Bambara, the principle language of Mali, but one that represents a promise of better things to come for its people. A literal translation would be "new happiness", and this is just how the locals in and around Baguineda describe the Football for Hope centre which was recently inaugurated in the town. Men, women and children of all ages, many playing traditional and modern instruments, sang and danced around the venue in a show of gratitude to FIFA and to the country's authorities at having chosen to implement this project in their homeland.
The inauguration ceremony was attended by a number of prominent figures, including the country's Minister of Youth and Sports Hamane Niang, the Minister of Employment and Vocational Training Ibrahima Ndiaye as well as Mrs Gakou Salimata Fofana, Minister of Housing, Land Tenure and Urban Development. Alongside these members of the Mali government were FIFA representitives Corina Eggenberger and Sampson Kablan, as well as Souadou Diabate, president of the Mali Association for the promotion of Youth and Women (AMPJF), Katrin Elseman of streetfootballworld, the deputy head of the prefecture of Kati, Afel Yattara, the mayor of the rural community of Baguineda, Jean Marie Dakouo, the traditional head of the municipality, Drissa Coulibaly, and, of course, a throng of delighted onlookers.
"The local population is overcome with joy and would like to sincerely thank FIFA for setting up a centre like this in our municipality," said mayor Dakouo. "Baguineda is the only municipality in Mali to have received a vote of confidence of this kind from the international football federation, and we give you our word that every element of our community will make good use of this veritable treasure." Coulibaly also spoke in similar terms, the eloquent 74-year-old figurehead assuring FIFA and the various administrative and political authorities that the entire local population was fully behind the project.
More than just sport
The centre, which cost some 109 million CFA francs, or 166,413 euros, comprises an administrative section, a library, an IT room, a circular multi-purpose room, changing rooms and an artificial turf pitch measuring 40 metres by 20 metres. The Baguineda centre is more than just part of the sporting infrastructure, however, it is designed to turn playing sport into an essential means of promoting the values of education, solidarity, brotherhood and community spirit, and to strengthen the education, culture and tradition of Mali.
These aims fit in perfectly with those of the Football for Hope project, which is designed to underpin improvements in the levels of health, education and football. "We have come to celebrate the birth of a baby which has brought us together and which has been developing in the womb since 2000," said AMPJF president Diabate. "Football for Hope and the AMPJF put together a strategic plan which concluded with the implementation of this project. The local community is fully behind the idea of the centre and is participating in the activities involved. A partnership dynamic has been set up between the Mali football federation, Baguineda town hall, the Ministry of Sports, the Olympic committee and the national social development office."
The Mali FFH centre has 45 "prefects" who are fully involved in the social and sporting development of the youngsters. The centre is also looking at adding economic training and placement of the youngsters to its activities to enable it to become self-sufficient when it comes to handling the socio-cultural realities of the local community. Speaking at the opening, FIFA representative Corina Eggenberger said: "The inauguration of the Baguineda centre sees us moving on to the next stage of the mission which we are carrying out across Africa: here in Mali we are supporting increased access for all youngsters, girls and young women to education and public health care via the medium of football. The creation of the Football for Hope movement enables FIFA to support the use of football as a direct tool to tackle challenges, by means of community projects which are carried out off the pitch. We’re delighted to witness the unveiling of the centre which illustrates the fruits of our labours which will help open doors to a better future for future generations." Eggenberger went on to explain that this was the fourth centre of its kind after ones in South Africa, Kenya and Namibia, and that a total of 20 were set to be created across the continent as part of the programme.
Ready to face life’s challenges
Sanata Diakite, a 15-year-old girl who plays in one of Baguineda's eight women's clubs, is convinced that playing football has improved the quality of the education of young women in the area. "The opening of the centre now means that we can hope for a better future," she explains. "We’re more aware of the realities of daily life and the importance of our true role in society. Now we’re ready to face up to what life can throw at us."
It was left to the Minister of Youth and Sports, Hamane Niang, to conclude proceedings and express how grateful the government were that facilities like these had been constructed. "It was a real pleasure to preside over the inauguration ceremony for this centre which FIFA has provided us with here in Mali," Niang said. "I would like to offer my most sincere congratulations to the AMPJF for its innovative strategy for promoting women's sport, and attempting to bring about positive and sustainable social change. Having a centre like this is an opportunity we need to make the most of so as to make sure youngsters, both male and female, do not succumb to the pitfalls of life out on the street."
"I would like to inform our partners at FIFA and streetfootballworld of the enthusiasm with which the authorities and people of Mali greeted the decision at the Final Draw of the 2010 World Cup in Durban to locate one of the Football for Hope centres in our country. My department will always be available to support the development and promotion of the centre," he concluded.