I've spent a lot of time over the last few years trying to ‘sell’ the idea of the East Africa Cup. What is unique about the event? Why bother?
Personally I was hooked when I saw a Ugandan team made up of former child soldiers lift one of the trophies in 2009. It was one of the few times I've seen sober men tearful.
|Workshops bring leaders together from all over East Africa © Nick Raistrick/EAC|
But the event isn’t really about winning trophies or finding the best players. And the tournament features a whole range of young people, not just those affected by conflict.
So I tend to talk about the classroom activities; young people learning about things like sports medicine, first aid and HIV and AIDS prevention is something that most people can understand as a Good Thing, even if you hated sport at school. Classes and seminars are compulsory, they happen each morning before the games start.
Some of them, like interfaith dialogue, leadership skills and conflict resolution, I tend to focus on less. Not because they aren’t important, it’s just because they are much harder to explain. And some people are suspicious about workshops in these topics, and in what can be achieved in a week.
In fact, the East Africa Cup motto is ‘a week in Moshi, a year in the community’. This is because teams involved must show a year-round commitment to community sport; some pay students’ school fees, run homework clubs and put on Saturday theatre classes throughout the year. So the event is a motivation for them, as well as a time to come together and share the best ways of doing things with like-minded colleagues.
I like talking about the evening programme, where young people drum, dance, sing and act in a programme of cultural exchange. The youngsters make friends from different countries, backgrounds, tribes and religions. In a region where these differences have too often been the cause of conflict, this is really important; it gives non sporty kids the chance to shine and it’s a lot of fun. These groups go out into Moshi and do street theatre too: great to see a dusty market square transformed by dancing and street theatre.
There are individual success stories – like the head of the referees at the East Africa Cup who went on to become the first woman referee in the Kenyan Premier League, and the first female CAAF commissioner too, which means she makes sure that international football matches across Africa happen properly.
(The gender ratio at the East Africa Cup is around 50:50, by the way. Levels of female participation are much higher than similar events in Europe, despite many of the girls and young women coming from backgrounds that discourage girls' involvement in sports and education.)
Another youngster ran a team in Rwanda that mixed Hutus and Tutsis; he played alongside the son of the man who killed his Dad: a remarkable story given how much football divides some places. Now a young adult, this former media skills workshop attendee works in audio and video production and we’re trying to get him back to the EAC as a trainer.
|'that' Kili image again © Nick Raistrick/East Africa Cup|
Much harder to explain, even though they keep me coming back, are the countless ‘East Africa Cup moments’: the clouds lifting to reveal Kilimanjaro is always special but the snakes on a minibus incident was funnier; and then there was the Year of the Wrong National Anthems… not to mention the Burundi sitting volleyball team beating able-bodied opponents to win not just a trophy but the affection of several hundred neutral fans.
More than one thousand youngsters get the chance to come to Moshi, for the event, from places like Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
I’ve spoken to loads of these kids, and for most of them it’s their first time abroad; for some it’s their first time leaving the slum neighbourhood where they grew up. Quite simply, the EAC gives many of these youngsters their first ever holiday. For many of them it really is a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. But also one that can change the course of their lives.
Unfortunately we are really short of money at the East Africa Cup, and really interested in looking at how we can build partnerships that can help pay for things like healthy meals for participants, equipment, transport costs and accommodation*.
Can you help? If you are interested in sponsoring the East Africa Cup, or are interested in coming to the event in the last week of June, please get in touch: email@example.com
Director of Media Development,
East Africa Cup.
* we use work with local schools who use money from the East Africa Cup money to pay for classroom repairs.