Beyond the Statistics: The Kick4Life FC All-Stars Tour

£33,000 raised towards Kick4Life FC’s work. 300 school children provided with access to HIV curriculum activities. These were some of the headline statistics read out by Co-Founder Steve Fleming in his final debrief to the group of 10 UK ‘All-Stars’ who had just experienced what, by all accounts, was ‘the time of their lives’ on the Kick4Life 2014 tour.
A period of silence followed as the tour group were asked to write down any comments and reflections on the week in the interest of, somehow, improving further the service on offer for future ‘All-Stars’. Seeing to an end my own week of attempting to help more than hinder operations behind the scenes, there was something serene and humbling about observing the contemplative focused new group of friends engage minds with pen and paper.
Whilst impressive, the statistics are the easy bit. Putting THAT experience in writing probably wasn’t such a straight forward task. Back in 2009 when I experienced the profound tour experience meticulously and sensitively organised by Kick4Life, one of my biding memories was that of the abundance of inspiration encountered: from the individuals that make up the ‘All-Stars’ group themselves, from the charity’s work, and from the young people of Lesotho – coaches and school children. Five years on, in that sense, nothing has changed.   
“Mind-blowing experiences almost everyday, in an amazing country which deserves the best for all its generations.”
“I’ve known K4L for years, but being in Lesotho with the staff, trainees, kids, teachers, locals etc. is 1000 times more powerful, impactful and meaningful than even my knowledge of what K4L does. I am left inspired, moved, exhausted, elated, touched and hugely motivated. HIV and poverty in Lesotho is a huge problem and we need to extend awareness and grow the social enterprises to tackle the issues head-on, soonest.”
I started drafting this blog post at the Johannesburg Ecotel last Sunday morning, fresh from dropping the group back off at the airport the day before. Eight days earlier, after watching a frustrating 3-3 Kick4Life FC draw I was tucking into a Braai with a freelance American journalist. We discussed the possible value around Kick4Life FC’s social enterprises against a backdrop of a country that, statistics would suggest, doesn’t appear to be making significant gains in any fight against HIV. Reflecting on my own blog post published the day before, I wondered whether an emphasis on spreading the good messages about looking after yourself may not be the most appropriate weapon of choice for that battle. Indeed, Lesotho has now leapfrogged Botswana to claim the world’s second highest HIV prevalence. 

A sense of responsibility. Self-worth. Emotional impact. Shared and personal experiences. A refreshed future. These characteristics are possibly what counts most. They don’t translate easily into figures but they were seen, heard and felt continuously over that week at Kick4Life FC’s hive of activity, both through and with the tour.
As pictures speak a thousand words – and I can, and usually do, easily end up writing more – here’s a flavour of that week in photos assisted by some of the tour group’s feedback provided on that last evening. 

Social Enterprise Team Manager Tess and the Country Director waited ’til
the early hours at the border for the beds to arrive the night before the tour were due
…but what a job they did!
Tess and ‘Auntie’ Lash from the SE Team
tidy up the main conference centre
Last minute preparations with Busi from the Social Enterprise team,
helping finishing touches with the second conference centre

Just names on a badge
 – some of the All-Stars and coaches set to make memories 

Morning of the tour group arrival, walking down from exchanging currency at Lesotho Sun hotel
 as the UK group were due that afternoon to touch down at Joburg,
struck by a view of Maseru with the Kick4Life FC hub taking centre stage

T.I.A. Despite a very carefully compiled plan of action by Chris and the very time conscious and punctual Steve, tour bus driver (and former Lesotho international football player and brother of Auntie Lash) ‘Wave’ and I encountered our first challenge before even leaving Maseru to collect the group from Joburg airport…a missing tour bus. A mix up led to a smaller vehicle being made available, requiring some ‘on my feet’ thinking – time to hit the road myself with the K4L 4×4!!
I’ve had worse problems then chasing the sun and 9-seater tow-bar-less bus
towards Johannesburg on the open South African road

The convoy arrives at Joburg…

No expense spared when Chris is in control of the budget…

Wave (holding the K4L banner) and I wonder where first due arrival ‘Neil’ is. After 45 mins of going along with my ‘Does this person look like a Neil?’ game, Wave gives up and returns to the bus. The slightly short stocky Welshman Neil finally approaches from an unexpected direction. We hit it off as he begins reeling off his unbelievable stories of his times following the Wales national team, his lack of packing more than one t-shirt and of his spontaneous 4 day fundraising walk the week before. “Chris will love you”, I informed Neil as we waited for the rest of the tour group.

Neil’s excellent introduction was eventually followed at Arrivals by Steve and the group. This included cricket team members including husband and wife Kate and Mike, engineering consultancy commercial manager Alden, freelance gambling adviser Alen, and Simon. They were joined by Chris’ former IT technician colleague Rachael and her gym instructor friend Claire from the same company, returning tour member and Sky employee Oya from Croydon, pediatrician and brother in law to the co-founders and the Fleming’s original Kick4Malawi challenge support member Srini. 
Day 1 (Saturday)
Arriving to the Kick4Life FC Centre, Maseru for sunset

Day 2 (Sunday) 
Visit to Thaba Bosiu cultural village and mountains and watch Matlama vs Kick4Life FC men’s team, evening card game of ‘Mafia’

Day 3 (Monday)
Presentation and tour of K4L, Curriculum training quiz night at No.7

“I did struggle with the curriculum at first. I found it very hard to put myself out there. One question that stuck in my head was ‘how can you do this, you know nothing of training kids?’ After a very difficult morning of training with all the K4L coaches I started to join in and felt the spirit of K4L. It was great for the coaches to be there when we delivered, as obviously there was a language barrier. They stepped in when we forgot the script. The kids were great, especially the second school. It was very eye-opening looking around the classrooms. All so friendly. I have loved the whole thing. Good to have a tour around the centre too.”

Day 4 (Tuesday)
 First school visit to Lesia high school to deliver curriculum activities and match vs. teachers, meal and drinks at No.7

“I knew this experience would be life-changing and rewarding but until you actually get here and experience everything first-hand you can never really realize the effect it can have on you. I feel totally honored and humbled to have got to come on this trip and share this experience with some amazing people.
This experience will stay with me forever and to say it has been life-changing is an understatement, and I have learnt so much. This trip has changed me for the better and the work that Kick4Life does is incredible.”

Day 5 (Wednesday) 
Second school visit to Qouling school, curriculum delivery and match (and ‘100m’ race vs teachers, cultural evening.

“Very hard to describe in words. Unbelievable, upsetting slightly. I haven’t laughed and cried so much in years. This has without doubt been the most memorable week of my life. I am absolutely exhausted both physically and mentally and am struggling to work out how I’ll explain the experience to people at home and give it justice.”

Day 6 (Thursday) 
Malealea & Rest Day followed by 
music performance, campfire and ‘Mafia’

“I had an amazing time on the tour. The tour was efficiently organized and the timing of different things was also excellent. It gave us time to get to know each other before we went on to the HIV curriculum, school visits etc. The week went off very quickly and everyone had a fantastic time.”

Day 7 (Friday) 
Pony Trek to waterfall, awards night and ‘Good Times’

“…it’s been another amazing journey. In a way I feel more emotionally connected with K4L and Lesotho…and really felt I got to understand the DNA of what K4L stands for and why I’ve been moved to tears a number of times. I’m proud I have been part of it…and will see you with my bro in 2015.”

“The tour was a great balance with going into the schools and also taking time out to reflect and learn about the local way of life. It really has been life-changing and eye-opening. It has also been so fantastic to stay at the centre and see all the great things with the hotel and N0.7, especially getting to know Tess, Wayne & Michelle who are all so passionate, interesting and inspiring.”

There’s no way even these pictures and quotes will get across the experience had by these 10 Kick4Life supporters. And I can’t do the whole week justice. However there are 3 occasions that for me characterised this particular tour and the impact and value I believe it holds in ‘making a difference’, for all involved whether British or Basotho.

A Hive of Activity – With Lerato as the Queen Bee.  

After the first weekend of historic mountain walking, football spectating and initial team bonding, the tour group were formerly introduced to the Kick4Life FC centre on the Monday. After listening to the informative presentation, I followed behind the group as the Country Director led them around the centre to see it in action. From No.7 and Moses’ IT classroom, the tour continued on to the freshly painted second conference centre, HIV counselling centre, media centre, library, the cleaner ‘Mama’ (Henrietta), Rasta’s garden, and literacy centre before arriving at the 5aside pitch to commence curriculum training led by Puky and Sbu.  

The training was very well led and certainly begun to break the ice and calm the nerves of the tour group before they set out to deliver the activities at the school. However it was moments before this started, as we stood in the renovated shipping container literacy centre during the tour, that I (and it would appear the tour group also) was bowled over by a staff member as she described the structure and ethos behind Kick4Life’s various activities. Co-ordinator Lerato, who had progressed in her career from her days as volunteer, gave a comprehensive and knowledgable presentation delivered with real professionalism and passion, and without any hesitation in clearly getting across exactly what is being achieved. As the Country Director concluded, Lerato has a bright future ahead of her.  
Lerato, the activities co-ordinator, provides an excellent breakdown
of on-site activities and the purpose behind them
It is the people themselves who will always provide the best advert. 

Full Impact at the Half Way Point  

Literally blood, sweat and tears; the half way point of the tour happened to provide probably the most emotionally draining and humanising day. In the run up to the tour Auntie Lash and I visited the second school that the group were due to visit. However securing this school was ‘touch & go’, partly because Kick4Life had never worked with Quoling (pronounced kwa-ding) before, but also because of the importance of the children receiving their lunch between 10:30-11:30am as for many it is the only meal they have each day. 

Our nerves with how well or not this visit was going to go however completely vanished on the rock-star reception at the school gates, followed by a tour of classrooms holding up to 160 excitable but well behaved children and one teacher. On one occasion the latter led her class through a moving-to-the-core rendition of ‘Make a Melody in my Heart’ after being graced by the tour group’s impromptu ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ led by Steve. 

The curriculum games were followed by a football pitch length race adamently arranged by the head teacher, and then the football game itself. Far less competitive and formal than the game the day before against Lesia high school’s teachers, with the tour group cruising to a 3-0 victory, a dramatic turn in events occurred. ‘Sportperson of the tour’ Simon clashed heads with a teacher, with blood quickly dripping on to a dusty hard pitch (I was close enough to know…). The game was abandoned with Simon being escorted by Dr Srini to recover at the private clinic. 

After an emotionally draining day for the group, I expected that the evening’s scheduled ‘cultural performance’ would provide some light even (to risk sounding patronising) ‘token’ ‘traditional’ entertainment that the group would politely applaud. How underestimated the reality was. After No.7 trainee Setsoto generously shared her personal story on how she became involved with Kick4Life – not a particularly easy course of events even just to listen to – what followed was an evening of spell-binding, raw, soulful talent presented through song, dance and comedy by some of Kick4Life’s academy members. From only Chris’ vague brief and a few days to prepare, what resulted – with a little fine-tuning of programming maybe – would not have been out of place at a national arts showcase.

Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately depending on how you look  at it – I didn’t capture this evening on camera. However the group’s gratitude was captured through ‘Spirit of the Tour’ Alden’s well executed and eloquent thank you speech at the end of the show. What a day. 
What an individual. Friendly, warm-hearted, Neil was a full-of-life character from my first introduction back at the airport. 

He is currently ‘on the wagon’ in his bid to improve health and fitness after years of inevitable compromises through following every Wales match and being central to the recovery of his beloved Welsh third division Llanelli Town. I only mention his health kick as either side of an impressively dedicated morning training routine half way through the tour, Neil was partial to the odd Maluti. Or Savannah Dry. Or red wine…Letting his hair down a little, the penultimate night of ‘Mafia’ around the Malealea Lodge campfire brought a woeful and frustrating effort from Neil. With tour members and the pack of cards gradually heading off to bed, Neil stayed up with a small group and reeled off a number of personal stories with each one becoming louder in narration and more unbelievable (such as fighting-off 50 Somalians and a ‘Chinese midget’ at a night out in Norway, and moving house to avoid regular visits from Mormons after signing up at a US church after travelling on a coach for 8 hours in the wrong direction…).

The following night – the Awards Evening – Neil came to the front of the room to make a speech. He acknowledged that he may have dropped down some people’s popularity list after the night before. The group gave a laugh and probably thought that was that. Neil then announced that, to make up for this, after spending the day making various phone calls to the Welsh national football club, Wales had agreed to sponsor one of the hotel rooms, No.11, now to be known as the ‘Gareth Bale’ room. He concluded that this would be sealed shortly with a £1,000 cheque and signed Gareth Bale shirt. After a lost-for-words astonished looking Steve went to sit back at his table, there was more to come. Next out of Neil’s bag of treats were Welsh dolls, Llanelli shirts, a Welsh flag and lyrics to a Welsh hymn and the Welsh national anthem. Neil invited the Kick4Life curriculum coaches to the front to join him in singing the latter, which they did with great effort despite the natural Sesotho-Welsh language barrier, followed by a proud tuneful Lesotho national anthem rendition. 

Neil was the first person I met at Joburg and the last person I happened to say goodbye to. He brought the tour Awards Evening room to a pin-drop silence with his Welsh hymn and then managed to encourage a very cool Basotho ladies football player to grasp the Welsh national anthem draped in a Wales flag. That experience is hard to put into words. Only a unique character like Neil could do that, and a unique tour like that provided by Kick4Life could make that happen.

As I sat in my bed in the not so tranquil Joburg Ecotel, I looked at the Kick4Life tour webpage. Refreshingly in these times of heightened superficial self-promotion and mass advertising, there is not a word of exaggeration or inaccuracy in the description of what can be achieved through this programme. The statistics are just the starting point.

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