Rain is considered a blessing across most parts of sub-Saharan Africa and it was for this reason that the people of Manica, a rural town in western Mozambique, continued to sing and dance despite the afternoon showers that fell during the opening of the Manica Football for Hope Centre.

The building is the latest to open its doors as part of FIFA’s ongoing 20 Centres for 2010 campaign, which is creating 20 such Football for Hope Centres across the continent as one of the lasting social legacies of the first FIFA World Cup™ to have been played on African soil. Combining football facilities with classrooms, computer equipment and public health lessons, the centres are intended to make a tangible difference to disadvantaged communities.

The Manica centre will be operated by Grupo Desportivo e Recreativo de Manica (GDM), a non-governmental organisation that uses sport, and specifically football, to promote social improvement in the town and surrounding province. GDM has been changing lives and mindsets in Manica since 1980, but director Chot Chikwandingwa believes the opening of the new centre will allow his organisation to reach even more people.

“This centre provides us with a hub that we can use to promote youth participation in football, education and healthy living,” Chikwandingwa told FIFA World on the day of the opening. “Our main objectives are to get young people involved in sport and to encourage balanced life skills, healthy living and equal gender participation, along with increased computer literacy and internet access, and environmental awareness.”

Local optimism
It’s an ambitious set of targets, but optimism seems high among the crowd of first-day visitors who have thronged to see the new facilities.

“I can’t express how happy I am to see a centre like this being opened in my community,” said 14-year-old Mavis Augustina, as she checked out the 40 by 20 metre artificial turf pitch, complete with solar-powered lights provided by FIFA World Cup Sponsor Yingli Solar. “This feels like a dream because I never imagined our small town could have something like this. We are facing many challenges, like poverty, gender inequality and limited access to education, and a lot of people here don’t believe they can ever become something or add value to their society. But projects such as this will empower us and help us learn to respect ourselves and each other.”

In keeping with the design of the other centres, the Manica project combines the look and feel of both the past and the present, with traditional, locally-sourced building materials – such as earth bricks and bamboo ceilings – being integrated within the centre’s modern design.

While the youngsters’ eyes are naturally drawn to the state-of-the-art football pitch, there is also clearly plenty of excitement about the centre’s educational facilities. “There wasn’t much to do around here in the past, and a lot of young people used to just go around destroying things,” recalled 13-year-old budding footballer Manuel Armando. “Now, though, everyone is really excited about this new centre and the skills that we can learn here. We’ll have a place to play and to study, and we’ll take whatever we learn here and make sure we share it with children from other areas.”

Gold challenge
Ironically, given the striking poverty which confronts most of its citizens, Manica is known for its abundance of subterranean gold. While that might sound like an obvious source of wealth, extracting the precious metal is difficult and has often exacerbated the region’s problems.

An influx of equally impoverished gold panners from across the country and from neighbouring Zimbabwe has put a further strain on resources, and the haphazard digging carried out by the panners has also caused extensive damage to the topsoil required for farming, and even to the scarce supplies of drinking water.

In a country still battling to overcome the devastating legacy of the 15-year civil war that raged until 1992, opportunities for youngsters are also hard to come by, and many of Manica’s children are also tempted to skip school in order to pan for tiny flakes of gold, usually worth only a few cents.

Progress is being made, however, with the average annual growth rate of Mozambique’s GDP now among the highest in the world, albeit from an extremely low starting point. The hope now in this part of the country is that new investments such as the Manica Football for Hope Centre can help bring about further positive change, for Manica and Mozambique at large.

“Since its creation in 2005, Football for Hope has been emphasising the power of football far beyond the boundaries of a football pitch,” FIFA’s Corporate Social Responsibility Programme Manager Cornelia Genoni pointed out during April’s opening day festivities. “As the most popular game in the world, football ignites passion and brings people together in a way that few other activities can.

“It also offers a unique opportunity for communities to engage with their children and their youth and we at FIFA are very proud to see the legacy of the 2010 FIFA World Cup becoming a reality in Manica in exactly that manner.”

Building for hope
While the opening of the Football for Hope Centre in Mozambique brings the total of open centres to ten, that number is set to rise rapidly in the coming weeks and months – with all 20 centres due to be operational by the end of this year.

In the second half of April, a further centre is due to open in Botswana, with two more opening their doors in Tanzania and Cape Verde in May.