Lesotho - A country in the sky

Tuesday, 19th February 2019 @ 11:15

Head of the Harlequins Foundation Marc Leckie on his recent working trip to Lesotho.

I recently returned from an incredibly rewarding trip to Lesotho, a stunning country with incredible landscapes, where I was scoping out a new international partner (Lesotho Rugby Academy).

For all fact fans Lesotho is a democratic, sovereign and independent country with the unique characteristic of being surrounded by its neighbour, South Africa. It is one of the poorest countries in the world and has the second highest rates of HIV in the world, with prevalence at around 25%.

Lesotho’s youth face several other challenges. Unemployment rates are high, particularly so among young people. Kids often turn to drink, drugs and smoking for entertainment. Diets are poor, with 44% of young people consuming at least one meal a day consisting only of pap; a cornmeal porridge covered with a sauce made from vegetables.

Sport receives limited government funding in Lesotho and most kids outside Maseru have little opportunity to participate in team sports because of lack of funding for equipment, like balls.

So, why Lesotho? I have been working on developing a concept for our international programmes and one evening stumbled across an article on rugby in Lesotho (credit The Sun's Jonny Fordham). It is an incredible story with the Lesotho Rugby Federation being created, almost accidentally, by an Englishman called Dan Aylward in 2011.

Initially he sent out an email to the ex-pat community asking if there were any Clubs he could play for and got two replies. One said there was a Club across the border 30km away in Ladybrand – another saying they sometimes saw some guys chucking a ball around on the tennis courts at the gym.

After joining them one evening Dan suddenly became coach and a couple of weeks later they had 15 people turning up. After several ‘friendly’ matches against local South African township teams they decided they were ready to join the local league in neighbouring South Africa. As they needed to open a bank account to get petrol money (the league subsidise travel as the towns are so far apart) so they could play in the league they had to be a legal entity and register a name.

They initially called themselves the Lesotho Rugby Union and became the de facto national team. The name then changed to The Federation of Lesotho Rugby as the government ministries thought they were a trade union! It took them a few years to start getting results in a mini-league they formed with Malawi and Swaziland, after their introduction to rugby in the Free State which mainly consisted of getting their heads kicked in most weeks.

With two of the founding members of the Federation he has now set up the Lesotho Rugby Academy. The Academy aims to tackle social problems in Lesotho through a ten-week rugby programme, delivered to young boys and girls in the poorest and most vulnerable areas across the country. Through the fun, teamwork and discipline of rugby, children are taught important life skills, including gender equality, good nutrition, how to protect themselves from HIV and AIDS, and how to live a healthy and responsible lifestyle.

During the week I helped assess three volunteer coaches who had all applied for one lead coach position. As a lead coach they would earn approximately 120 Rand and as a volunteer coach 50 Rand. Transport is a real issue, both the conditions of the road and safety. It costs the volunteer coaches 10-15 Rand each way to get to sessions and they are left with 20-30 Rand a day which works out at approx. 75p - £1.15 a day!

We have committed funding of £5,000 per year for three years and we will be working with the charity to support the development of their operating plans. This, alongside funding from Atlas Foundation, will deepen and expand the impact of their work (last year they engaged with 4,000 children).

At the end of the week I was able to present the coaches with some Harlequins kit and hope that we will be able to send over more kit and equipment, as well as staff (and indeed Quins supporters if anyone reading this is keen!) to help capacity build this wonderful charity.

Find out more about the Harlequins Foundation by clicking here.


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