Football Helps – 10 Years of Value Transfer through Sports, Knowledge and Social Engagement.

Football Helps – 10 Years of Value Transfer through Sports, Knowledge and Social Engagement.

Introducing Football Helps, a non-profit project that offers people in Burundi and Austria a platform to acknowledge their social responsibility and act accordingly.

“We believe in a world where people of all ages acknowledge their responsibility for the well-being of society and act on it. Change starts with myself!”

This is what drives the people involved with Football Helps, a non-profit project that offers people in Burundi and Austria a platform to acknowledge their social responsibility and act accordingly. Some simply want to contribute to the children in Burundi so they’re able to chase a football in a safe, protected environment (instead of the street). Others have experienced the importance of team sports for personal growth, and the potential that football brings to connect people who are different in many ways, but find common ground in their love for the sport. Many understand that children who experience the pride that comes from social activities will grow in self-confidence and recognize their value in their communities. Whatever the reasons are for someone who donates their time, effort or money – at the core lies the awareness that there is a positive effect on your own life through contributing to the well-being of others.

Photography by Alex Tice Gray. alexticegray.com
Photography by Alex Tice Gray. alexticegray.com

From Participant to Founder – The Origin of Football Helps

In 1995, a twelve-year-old boy from Burundi found himself and his family displaced in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya after two years of fleeing from civil war. The next five years of his life would turn out to be unexpectedly good, because he stumbled upon an organization that provided children with footballs and a pitch to play on. Seeing the way that participation in those games changed his experiences in Nairobi, and how they brought together so many historically conflicting ethnicities, a desire ignited in him to one day bring those same opportunities to children in Burundi as well. In 2011 the time had come, and after selling all their furniture and giving up their apartment in Vienna, founders Simplice “Soso” Mugiraneza and Nadja Hala moved to Bujumbura, Burundi to initiate what had become their shared dream: Football Helps.

Photography by Alex Tice Gray. alexticegray.com
Photography by Alex Tice Gray. alexticegray.com

The Story Unfolds

In the country with the smallest GDP per capita in the world (ppp), with a population of nearly 12 million and an median age of 17,3 years, the enthusiasm for Football Helps was overwhelming from the first kick-off. The pilot project was based in Ngozi, a rural region in the north of Burundi, and people would walk for hours to be part of the tournament, even just as spectators. It quickly became apparent that Football Helps had great potential to be a success story, and it did not take long to find a dedicated team of local volunteers to support the projects when Soso and Nadja returned to Austria, nearly a full year after moving to Burundi. 

Photography by Alex Tice Gray. alexticegray.com
Photography by Alex Tice Gray. alexticegray.com

From the beginning, social activities (called ‘Community Work’) have been an integral part of Football Helps. Participation in these projects is rewarded with points for teams participating in the football tournament, giving the kids a great incentive to be contributing members of society. Not much later, workshops were instituted with the same reward system, with the goal that the children be taught about relevant issues like health and hygiene. In the early years, tournaments had a duration of several weeks and took place whenever enough money had been donated from family and friends. With the inspiring stories and pictures coming back to the donors in Austria, the team started growing; and so did the donations. Within the last six years the teams have grown to 47 people in Burundi and 21 in Austria, with tournaments now taking place from February to December every year. In 2020 the tournaments involved over 650 children, in both the city of Bujumbura and the rural area of Kabezi. Additional programs like annual summer camps, talent shows and end-of-year celebrations were added, as well as development programs for the members and volunteers contributing to the projects in Burundi. In 2017 Football Helps initiated its first girls tournament and is confident to receive funding to launch the next one in 2021. 

Photography by Alex Tice Gray. alexticegray.com
Photography by Alex Tice Gray. alexticegray.com

Enjoying the Highs and Learning from the Lows

There have been too many inspiring moments within the last ten years to describe them all. In March and April of 2020, the entire team had to react to the Covid-19 pandemic. In only three weeks, fliers with essential information about the virus and precautionary measures were designed in three languages (with visual depictions). They were printed, laminated, and distributed along with bars of soap to roughly 700 households associated with Football Helps in Burundi. 

Photography by Alex Tice Gray. alexticegray.com
Photography by Alex Tice Gray. alexticegray.com

Former participants now play in Burundi’s first league, which grants them access to tertiary education, a roof over their heads and a small income. Some even play for the National Team (The Swallows, ‘Intamba m’Urugamba’ in their native Kirundi), which is obviously a great honor to them and their families. Still, it is almost more satisfactory to see how many former participants contribute to Football Helps after they have outgrown the programs. Especially rewarding was the launch of a second annual tournament in Kabezi (a rural area outside of Bujumbura city), which was organized independently by a former participant who wanted to provide the same experiences he had to the children in this region. Another highlight was the invitation of Football Helps’ project manager to the YALI (Young African Leaders Initiative) program, initiated by Barack Obama, where he received a free leadership course for over three months along with other young leaders from across the continent. All in all, the most wonderful thing is probably the way so many participants as well as both teams in Burundi and Austria have grown over the years, not only in numbers, but also in ability, experience and as human beings. 

Photography by Alex Tice Gray. alexticegray.com
Photography by Alex Tice Gray. alexticegray.com

Football Helps has faced a number of challenges along the way, but each one has given the organization the opportunity to grow. As an example: at the beginning of 2014, the tournament organizer in Burundi disappeared with all the equipment and belongings of the organization. Suddenly there was no one in charge, and no more equipment for the next tournament. Luckily this was at a time when tournaments took place irregularly, depending on the available funds, and now Football Helps has installed several safety measures to eliminate this possibility. Twice the organization has had to find a new pitch to play on while a tournament was taking place, due to change of mind by the owners. Experiences like this have fostered the awareness that there simply is no security in a rented pitch and have led to the decision that Football Helps must have its own field to guarantee a sustainable infrastructure. 

Photography by Alex Tice Gray. alexticegray.com
Photography by Alex Tice Gray. alexticegray.com

The Unwritten Chapters

In 2021, Football Helps will be focusing on optimizing the quality of the running projects and improving its infrastructure in Burundi. A girls tournament, with its own Community Work and Workshops, will take place from April until September. A new Workshop concept is being tested with Austrian children and will be implemented after the summer. Furthermore, all coaches will receive a coaching certificate from the Burundian Football Foundation in order to improve the training quality for the children. 

Photography by Alex Tice Gray. alexticegray.com
Photography by Alex Tice Gray. alexticegray.com

After years of creating the necessary financial reserve to purchase an own pitch, Football Helps is planning to secure a suitable property by the end of 2021 and build the field in the beginning of 2022. In the long run, this field is going to develop into a youth center, including classrooms, cooking and washing stations, accommodation, offices and storage rooms. 

Photography by Alex Tice Gray. alexticegray.com
Photography by Alex Tice Gray. alexticegray.com
Photography by Alex Tice Gray. alexticegray.com
Photography by Alex Tice Gray. alexticegray.com
Photography by Alex Tice Gray. alexticegray.com
Photography by Alex Tice Gray. alexticegray.com
Photography by Alex Tice Gray. alexticegray.com
Photography by Alex Tice Gray. alexticegray.com
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To find out more about Football Helps, visit their Website or look them up on Facebook or Instagram.

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