“Just come, and we will play soccer.”
That was the invitation Akim extended to the young men of his village Kangomea, Zambia.
All were encouraged to join, regardless of age or ability. The prospect of a team excited the boys, most of whom spent their extra time sitting around, watching videos or frequenting the local bar.
Meeting at the unused football field beside the railroad tracks, they started a game and sat beneath the trees afterwards as Akim led a Bible study. The following week, they did the same.
Akim came up with the idea of starting a football team after completing the three-month discipleship course at OM Zambia, a half-hour walk from his home. He thought the sport would provide a great way to share what he had just learnt in discipleship with the young men of his village.
Now, 25 boys between the ages of 9 and 19 can be found at the football field every Monday and Wednesday afternoon. They maintain the field themselves, bringing slashers and cutting the grass as needed. At the end of each practice, they gather to study God’s Word and share what is going on in their lives.
The first football the team had was donated by a missionary. After awhile, they decided to purchase an additional ball and pay for it as a team.
“We started with 50 ngwee ($0.01 USD),” explained Alfred Kashikechi, assistant coach and OM Zambia missionary. “Whenever they had 50 ngwee, they would bring it until we could buy a soccer ball.”
After two months, the players had pooled together 40 kwacha ($6.00 USD). An additional 10 kwacha ($1.50 USD) was donated, and the ball was bought.
“It was very exciting [when the ball was purchased],” Akim said. “They did not realize that they could contribute and buy a ball together. They thought they couldn’t manage it, that it was too expensive.”
The success of the ball encouraged the team to dream bigger. Next, they set their sights on buying matching jerseys. The players spent a whole day cutting a local missionary’s grass to earn the money to purchase “Zambian green” jerseys. Matching shorts were later donated to complete their uniforms.
The team plays against nearby villages and always wins, according to their coach. Not only have they proved to be substantial football players but also youth of substantial character, as well.
“I can see a difference if we are playing another village,” said Akim, “from how those guys are behaving and how our guys are behaving. You can tell there is [Christ] here.”
A team on and off the field
No one can say exactly where the idea of a garden came from, except that it was planted by God.
As many of the boys don’t have enough money for school fees, books or even to buy a pen, the team sat down to discuss ways of coming up with the funds. The suggestion of a garden was immediately popular, as there is plenty of empty land surrounding the village.
A farmer himself, the father of one of the players offered a piece of land for the team to develop for free, saying they could have even more land if they wished.
Located a short walk from the football field, the garden has been platted with tomato, rapeseed, maize and onion.
Just as the team works together on the field, they also work together off the field to maintain the garden. Split into four groups, each group is responsible for looking after the garden one week per month, weeding, watering and doing whatever else is necessary to keep the vegetables growing.
Already, there are plans for expansion. Another parent has given permission to use a plot of land that would be ideal for growing maize next season.
The profits from the garden will benefit the team, as well as each member individually. As the garden grows and profits, the goal is that the boys will be able to pay for their own education.
“It’s key to have something like this to empower boys, to give them a way of thinking differently,” said Chris Welman, SportsLink Africa Area Coordinator. “Suddenly, they could have an income and pay for school fees. The same story’s happening up at Lake Tanganyika and Ndola and other places as well, like this, next to the [football] field, and we’re excited about that. I think it’s a great model here.”
Chris continued, “Imagine: 25 boys could pay for their own school fees and have something that they can take back home for their family. [It’s] a big deal. We can transform communities if we do this.”