Great goal in the beautiful game
A college is this year gearing up to provide sports training and equipment to 8,000 of some of the world's most deprived children in South African townships. South Nottinghamshire College's Balls to Poverty campaign will give soccer coaching and footballs to 35,000 pupils in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria before the 2010 World Cup.
A group of 28 students from the college will take part in the coaching and play in a nationwide tournament during the 16-day trip, which starts in March.
Joe Sargison, a former Nottingham Forest youth coach and director of the college's athlete performance programme, thought of the idea in 2004 on a trip to Soweto.
"I broke away from the group and walked off into a township and saw lots of kids playing," he said. "Often they just stick together pieces of paper and cardboard and screw them up into a ball. So I bought them a football."
It planted the seed of an idea which would become Balls to Poverty. He began by gathering up spare footballs in his kitchen before bringing them over to South Africa, which hosts the 2010 World Cup. Eventually, it won support from Unite, the manufacturing union, and from Nottingham Forest FC, allowing many more footballs to be handed out to township children. Some have already been sent, and 8,000 balls are being shipped out in the spring, rising to 10,000 in World Cup year.
Mr Sargison said: "It's incredible the reaction we get. There's just pure joy. They're really very excited, very happy - it's a very natural expression that is just joy more than anything else. It really is a gift to them."
Every child who receives a ball also gets a coaching session from the South Nottinghamshire students, who honed their skills at the college's academy.
The academy caters for talented footballers, some of whom have just missed out on a place at a professional club. It offers them either a chance to re-enter top-level football or play semi-professionally and widen their career options.
The experience of the trip transformed the students as well as the township children they helped, Mr Sargison said. He now plans to develop the project into a volunteering scheme to help Nottingham, which has its own problems of poverty, drugs and guns.
"We're seeing that for kids going through the whole programme, it's lifting the bar for them personally," he said. "And so the direction of the project is changing. When we first started it was all about getting the equipment to kids in South Africa.
"But it suddenly dawned on me that the city of Nottingham has a poor reputation in terms of gun culture and so on. But there's been a transformation with this project - not just in terms of students continuing studies, but finding extra courses to stay on in the college environment and people going to university. We can help them to inspire kids with some serious problems here in Nottingham."