Football for Africa: Connecting Sport and Conservation in Kenya

Student Profile: Rosemarie Di Blasio

By Maddie Melton

Participating in overseas volunteer trips has become something of a trend in recent years. But such an experience in a project that develops far beyond those few weeks spent abroad takes an exceptional level of commitment, as second-year Rosemarie Di Blasio knows all too well.

In 2011, during a six-week volunteer trip to Mahandakini, a former poaching village in Tsavo West national park in Kenya, Rosemarie and her older brother happened to join in a few football games with the local children. They were impressed with the passion many of the children had for the sport, but they were also struck by the lack of facilities. Instead of a pitch, the children played in rugged fields; instead of footballs, they had crafted their own out of rubber and plastic bags.

After returning to her home city of Rome, Rosemarie, a football player herself, was determined to give the children of Mahandakini more resources to play the game they loved. Initially she held bake sales and other small events to raise money, but soon Rosemarie’s classmates’ enthusiasm motivated her to host a larger fundraising event: a football tournament. News spread quickly, and ten teams from across Europe came to participate. Italian football clubs donated jerseys and other equipment, and even airlines were happy to help, offering Rosemarie and her brother discounted tickets to return to Kenya. The tournament raised €5000, enough to begin the first round of construction in Mahandakini.

Rosemarie and her brother soon returned to Mahandakini and worked together with the children to build two football pitches, a netball field, and two volleyball fields. They organized training sessions so the children would also have coaches, and two football teams have already been established. After seeing how much interest this project generated at home, Rosemarie decided to think even bigger. Currently, she and her brother are working on developing the project into an official NGO, Football for Africa.

However, sport is only one of the aspects. Mahandakini was the first village in the region to pioneer an effort to stop poaching in order to preserve wildlife and Rosemarie, who grew up in an environmentally conscious family, saw an additional opportunity to bring a conservation element to the project. She hopes the new sports fields will bring people from nearby villages to Mahandkini and that they will be inspired to follow their lead to stop poaching.

Although her first trip to Kenya was only two years ago, Rosemarie has seen huge successes and hopes to continue work with Football for Africa after finishing her studies. The new fields are rewarding, but to Rosemarie, the most inspiring part so far has been building the pitches together with the children. “All the kids starting running in the forest to pick up stones. You see these tiny little kids with huge rocks on their shoulders because they were so excited to help in this process themselves. For them it’s such a big happening to get a football field to play on.”

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