It's more than just a sport. OM is using football at Lake Tanganyika to train and empower young boys.
“If you want to change Africa, we realised that starting with the young people [was the way to] change the mind set and way of thinking,” said Christopher Kasale, field leader of OM Lake Tanganyika.
At one time, there was a large youth group in Mpulungu, where the OM Lake Tanganyika team is based, but leadership did not see the youth in the group growing in their faith. Discussing why there was no impact, someone suggested that too many youths had attended, and the group didn’t have the capacity to train and develop them. Rethinking the approach, Christopher decided to start smaller.
“We didn't want to be seen in the forefront of 100 youths trying to develop them,” said Christopher. “We wanted to develop one boy, and he can develop his friends.”
Four years ago a group of seven boys, now young men, were picked to be discipled as the Honest Boys.
“One of the reasons for the name Honest Boys was because I struggled very much being honest as a small boy,” admitted Christopher. “I knew those boys had that struggle too. So we came up with this value and asked: Can we be honest? Can we speak the truth? Can we keep promises? Then if we are honest, we are going to have respect.”
Some of the boys have parents, while others have lost one parent or both. But all are vulnerable.
As part of the group, the boys learnt many things, including football skills, how to coach, farm, make handcrafts, handle finances, do a Discovery Bible Study (DBS) and uphold Christian values.
“The values we [teach] are ownership, responsibility, creativity and stewardship,” said Christopher.
The boys, says Christopher, learn to take ownership of their football, of a garden, of skills they learn and of their actions. They grow in responsibility by caring for these things.
Creativity is developed through gardening and crafts. Additionally, the boys are taught stewardship by learning how to save and how to withdraw money from a bank.
The first of the Honest Boys to open an account was Kennedy. “You could see his face shining with his Visa card,” said Christopher. “By then Kennedy was about 15 years old, and if you look at the 15-year-olds in Zambia, there are many of them, but maybe one per cent have a bank account.”
Likewise, five years ago, an Honest Boy named Sunday was laughed at and couldn’t speak English, recalled Christopher.
“His job was the anchor boy, and the anchor boy is not respected,” Christopher said. “He was the last person in the community. But he was built up, built up. Now he is a big boy and many boys go to him.”
Another Honest Boy, Nelson, was living with his sister and brother-in-law, who are OM missionaries, when he was picked to be one of the Honest Boys and knew his life would never be the same.
With money earned from farming and making handcrafts, Nelson paid his own school fees, starting in grade nine to grade 12, becoming the first person in his family to finish school.
“For me, being an Honest Boy has transformed my life,” said Nelson. “Now my role is to help other guys so their lives can be transformed.”
There are few things Zambians are more passionate about than football.
“When you walk in the streets with a ball you will be surrounded by 50 kids,” laughed Christopher. “If they know it is your ball, they will not leave you. You'll be in church worshipping and they're outside looking for you. It doesn't matter if they are Muslim or Christian—as long as you have that ball.”
What can one ball do? “It can bring transformation,” Christopher said. “One ball can change the life of a child, of a family. [It can change] the community.”
Just as they were chosen and developed, the Honest Boys now do the same for boys in the communities around Mpulungu. Each young man coaches their own soccer team of 15 and picks three to five boys to further develop.
When the boys attend practice they are given help and advice from the coach, as well as participate in a DBS. Some are taught to make crafts that they are then able to sell; others are involved in agriculture, growing and selling vegetables. Others raise chickens or goats.
“I have three guys I am working with right now,” said Nelson, “helping them with things like the Discovery Bible Study. For the economic part, we are making [crafts] together. For the social part, we talk about our lives and families. Every week we have a game and use that game to develop the physical part.”
Farming has proven to be a skill every team member can use.
“The young ones have this desire to learn, and whatever you give them they will do it,” Christopher said. “I told them to prepare [gardening beds] at home to plant vegetables. So they make beds in the corner of their yards and I give them vegetables. Then [there are] conditions, like before you come to practice you need to water the garden. Within three months, each child has a vegetable garden at home. In Zambia, people will know about [the garden] and come looking to buy vegetables. So they start to sell.”
The profits from the vegetables are used for school fees, to buy food for the family, to be put in the bank and to purchase a new football.
As the young people make their own money using the life skills they’re taught, they are encouraged to buy their own football after three months, which produces another ball that starts the cycle again to train more boys.
“If [someone] asks me how many balls I need, I will say just one,” said Christopher. “Then come in three months and you will find that that one ball has been multiplied and has brought change to people.”