Christmas came early this year for the children of the North-Western province village of Kyafukuma when a Toyota Hilux from FQM’s Kansanshi Mine drove up to the edge of the football field and unloaded 22 brand-new soccer jerseys and shorts for two local football teams.
Even before Max, of the Kansanshi Foundation, emerges from the vehicle with the soccer kit, the children have already started gathering around in an unruly huddle, barely able to contain their enthusiasm at the prospect of being able to play in their teams’ colours.
“Number three!” Max calls.
The player corresponding to that position pushes through the huddle to collect his kit, and then, screaming with delight, bolts to the nearest set of bushes to change.
An eager pair of hands grabs the number 11 jersey and shorts, and promptly disappears like greased lightning to go and change. This scene is repeated countless times until Max has emptied the bag of goodies, and the last set of kit has been taken.
A key challenge is preventing a sense of dependency among recipients
The sheer joy and delight of these village children are evident on their faces as they gratefully shed their clothing to emerge, renewed and replenished, in pristine new uniforms; most of the kids have not even bothered to remove the tags. It’s not long before the two teams are on the pitch, posing for photographs in their shiny new gear.
Shortly afterwards, the ref blows the whistle. Battle commences as 22 excited children chase the ball around the makeshift pitch as the crowd roars from the sidelines.
“This is youth soccer, and the children are playing in what we call the Farmers’ League,” Max explains. “They’ve all been trained in conservation farming. When they’re not attending school, they’re helping out in the fields. Then, like now, they play soccer; the girls play netball. In the evening, we show them movies using a screen, a projector and a laptop.”
He explains the motivation behind the steady stream of activities – keeping them fit, keeping their minds occupied and keeping them out of mischief.
Chatting to the many girls watching the game on the sidelines, it soon becomes apparent that they too will soon be the happy recipients of new kit for their own sport – netball. Their uniforms are still being prepared and are expected to be delivered in a week’s time.
Sport is just the tip of the iceberg of Kansanshi’s programme. The key thrust is the teaching of conservation farming, which has enabled the villagers to more than double their yields of crops like beans and maize, and earn more money. This has improved food security, health and wellbeing, and disposable income. The mine also supports the schools in the area by training teachers, supplying learning materials, and providing desks and textbooks. Kyafukuma is just one of several villages around the mine that Kansanshi supports in this way.
“In the beginning, there was no one to support or look after us,” says Stewart, a local villager who recalls what it was like before Kansanshi arrived on the scene. “Now they are supporting us in agriculture, education, literacy, recreation and the construction of infrastructure like boreholes and a canal. These are all things that we never had before. We are really grateful.”
An obvious question arises – is there not a risk that this ongoing and sustained support unwittingly ends up creating a culture of dependency among the villagers?
“We are trying to avoid that,” Max acknowledges. “One way of doing that is to insist that they also contribute to whatever it is we are doing. For example, right now on this soccer field, we have provided the uniforms, the balls and the goalposts – but in return they have to prepare the football pitch and keep it in good condition.”
An hour later, the villagers gather around the two Kansanshi Toyotas as they pull away, their 4X4 engines making easy work of the muddy, potholed path that leads back to the main road. The villagers wave goodbye, visibly content with the day’s unexpected Christmas offerings.
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