The State of Rugby in Africa

At the prime of his youth, Jason Leonard was the youngest guy to play for England at national rugby at 22 years. He played the position of a prop for major teams namely Harlequins, England and British and Lions. In the course of his international career he achieved a record breaking 114 caps for England. Leonard has been actively involved in the world of rugby despite being retired since 2004.

When he hang his boots, his love for charity saw him found Atlas Foundation which aims to alleviate poverty. Atlas Foundation grew gradually with other rugby players joining hands to assist the youth across the world. The foundation prides itself in helping communities reduce illiteracy levels and poverty.

Amidst Covid 19, Atlas Foundation continues to impact lives by donating food, masks and medical supplies. Slum areas have been hardest hit with the pandemic seeing that slum dwellers are already disadvantaged even without the pandemic. Desperation rises every passing day as persons struggle to eke a living, fight disease and starvation. Below are previous and ongoing works of the foundation.

Is rugby the ticket out of poverty?

In Lesotho, Atlas partnered with Lesotho Rugby Academy to impart life skills. Alex Ncheke a beneficiary of the foundation began his rugby journey aged 18 years. Orphaned at a tender age, Alex recalled how his age mates ventured into crime and drug abuse having lost all hope. He testifies that rugby inspired him to concentrate in school and achieve higher grades. The sport helped him keep off smoking and petty theft, vices rampant among the youth in his community. Children in Delhi-India have not been left out by Atlas. Sliders-UK partnered with Atlas and formed a mentorship program that saw children in public schools get a chance to play. Impoverished children were for a long time denied access to public parks. A chance to play for these children was indeed a new lease of life. Plans are underway to have the project spread to more schools in India.

Overview of rugby in Kenya and Malawi

In Kenya, a project dubbed Team Talk Kenya has been well received. The project aims to improve the lives of girls and helps boys develop respect for the girls. In matters education, girls were at a disadvantage as the community did not value educating the girls. Girls would drop out of school between 12 and 17 years due to early pregnancies and forced marriages. A new project dubbed Digibus Mobile classroom is underway in Kibera slum. The bus will be converted to a mobile classroom fitted with solar panels. Upon completion, the bus will facilitate transport to school. This will assist in providing education to a larger number of children in the slum, while sensitizing boys and girls on sexual health and empowering them to strive for secondary education. The project was made possible in conjunction with Simon Shaw a rugby champion.

Malawi, one of Africa’s poorest nations has also been a beneficiary of Atlas’ community development. For years it ranked high in lowest GDP per capita income, infant mortality and deaths associated with curable diseases such as malaria. In this region, Atlas has committed to establishing a feeding program, whereby children are set to receive nutritious food.

Not much was known about rugby in Israel. This did not deter Atlas from lending a helping hand. Atlas worked with private donors to introduce the sport to schools. The focus on the project was on peace and reconciliation between different religious racial classes present in the nation. The project began in 2018 and the school numbers have gradually risen over the years. Festivals comprising of Arabs, Jews, Christians and Dzunes have since taken place, an indication of reconciliation.

Receptiveness to rugby in Ivory Coast

Introduction to the sport in Ivory Coast was well received by the children. Atlas partnered with Les E nfants de L’Ovale to give opportunities to the marginalized groups. The children came from a slum known as Biafra in Abidjan. 200 children continue to receive educational support and rugby training. Atlas was quick to note that though the children were dedicated academically, their zeal to succeed was being held back by lack of facilities. The school lacked a pitch and electric lighting. The foundation purposed to build 2 classrooms for their education, provide hot running water for showering, electricity so they can do assignments at home and a pitch available for everyone at the heart of the community.

A virtual program dubbed ‘virtual all schools’ has been well received. It aims to give children without access to schools and schools lacking in facilities, a chance to participate in training and education. Singapore has experienced transformation through the virtual project. Atlas Foundation works is one way the foundation has used rugby to touch lives in communities across the world. They have manage to reduce poverty and put children through school in their own little way. Through rugby not only have they improved harmony but also endeared many to the world of rugby.

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