The Lesotho Rugby Academy – tackling social problems in Lesotho through sport
This International Youth Day, we shine the spotlight on a project that addresses both the physical and emotional empowerment of vulnerable young boys and girls across Lesotho through rugby.
About the project
Back in 2020, Dolen Cymru, Wales Lesotho Link secured a Small Charities Challenge Fund grant to scale-up a pilot project aimed at tackling social problems in Lesotho through a 10-week national rugby programme, the Lesotho Rugby Academy (LRA).
Delivered to young boys and girls in 40 schools over 30 months, in the poorest and most vulnerable areas of the country, trained coaches were to attend the schools each week, to deliver two-hour sessions with 30-70 children.
Critically, alongside the sports coaching, important group discussions were planned around key life skills and topics such as gender equality, good nutrition, and the prevention of HIV and AIDS.
The COVID-19 global pandemic presented challenges to the launch of the scale up project in 2020 and meant a disrupted start to the LRA programme roll out. This initially impacted on the team’s ability to deliver the programme as planned.
As lockdown restrictions lifted and schools re-opened, the LRA implemented a COVID-19 response to adapt the programme to the unprecedented situation affecting the school communities. New lessons were included to raise awareness of COVID-19 safe practices including good hand hygiene as a priority.
Alex is an orphan living in Ha Tsolo in Maseru, Lesotho’s capital city. Maseru has a high level of poverty, widespread unemployment, and there are limited choices for young people.
Alex is 26 years old. His school was one of the first to be part of the pilot LRA programme and he was inspired by the programme messages. He started playing rugby during his time in high school, playing for both district and national youth teams. In 2016 he completed his education and became a volunteer coach with the LRA, whilst still continuing to pursue his personal rugby ambitions.
“Rugby helps you in your life so much. Rugby helped me to focus at school. After training I would do my schoolwork. I got good marks – better than my friends who didn’t play rugby.
“Coach Roy taught us a lot. He taught us about gender equality. He taught us smoking was bad, that it can give you lung cancer, and we shouldn’t smoke when we play sport because our heart can beat twice as fast. He taught us that beer can damage your liver.
“I don’t drink or smoke because I want to be healthy. At my town in Ha Tsolo, boys act like gangsters, sitting in bars. I might have joined them – there is nothing to keep you busy. Now I gym and I train.”
Alex sustained his interest in rugby and took on board the positive messages that are the core values of the LRA.
“Rugby players must be role models. I am a double orphan, but my younger sister is copying my style. She wants to come with me to training. I’ve told her what I learned about HIV, drugs, smoking and beer.”
In 2020 when the LRA programme was scaled up with the support of the Small Charities Challenge Fund grant, Alex joined the coaching team and became employed as a fully trained coach. He is also now a Youth Ambassador for the project, becoming a role model to new groups of young people joining the LRA programme.
‘Since being introduced to rugby by the LRA, I played for under 16 national team (Mahalima)from there I joined Warriors rugby clubs. The very same year I made it to Kingdom Select Senior Team playing in free state (South Africa) whereby I was elected as a captain. From there my dream became really. I was called into the national team books and now I have four caps.
“Being selected as a vice captain was a bonus! Now that I’m a coach with the LRA I would love to be the best as my coach. I would like to change people’s life and be the best as I am!”
For more information about Dolen Cymru Lesotho Link, visit Dolen Cymru, Wales Lesotho Link’s website.