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Monday, September 1, 2014

Who needs the World Cup when you have HSB?

 It’s been a long-standing tradition in my family that the boys and men play football, and I was no exception. From the age of five it was clear that I was a promising player and could have a bright future playing the sport. Football became the focus of my life, I trained every day and I developed a ‘footballer’s mind’, playing every game strategically and continuously pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Unfortunately in 2011 injury got the best of me and my dreams of playing football to a high standard were shattered. I looked into other career avenues but soon became disillusioned. In 2013, after working for Notts County Football Club, I was offered the opportunity to go to Burkina Faso to work on a sports- related project. More than anything, I was excited by the prospect of getting out of Nottingham, but little did I know what a positive impact the experience would have on my life.  
Whilst in Burkina, I worked for HSB (Handicap Solitaire Burkina), an NGO dedicated to empowering disabled people. HSB work to engage disabled people in sports and other activities, in the hope that they will help demonstrate the capabilities of disabled people living in Burkina. I would often spend my evenings taking part in sporting activities such as tennis, basketball and football with disabled people.
Whilst I was there, HSB re-opened ‘Espace Bambino’, a group that focused on helping disabled children by providing them with physiotherapy and support. Unfortunately, Espace Bambino had been forced to temporarily close due to lack of funding, so it was imperative that we continued to raise funds in order to keep it open. On a daily basis, we would try to think of new ideas of how to raise money. We would email potential sponsors and partners, but to no avail. Then one day, I had a ‘lightbulb’ moment - since being in the country I had noticed a huge passion among the locals for football, everywhere I looked people were kicking a ball around and I’d often try and join in. With this in mind, I suggested organising a football tournament to raise money and awareness of HSB. The UK volunteers pitched the idea to the HSB workers and they loved it. To our delight we discussed how we could make it happen.
We soon set a date for the tournament and we began organising everything, we decided to aim the football tournament at local football teams, International Service volunteers and local people who were interested in football. We planned to charge the players/ teams to enter and also sell food, drink, branded t-shirts and beautiful bowls made by the local disability school. 
George and his team mates at the tournament.
Finally the day came along and with full preparation of the tournament done, we were really excited!  The day started at 5:30 am with the UK volunteers arriving on site to set up the football pitches, organise the seating arrangements and make the refreshments. Before we knew it, people began to arrive and the pitch was buzzing! Watching people from varying backgrounds muck in together and enjoy the game was a heartwarming sight – it just goes to show, football really is and international language! The tournament was a huge success, and it met our objectives of raising money and promoting awareness of HSB.             

Spending three months in Burkina Faso was a life changing experience on all accounts, it was rewarding, enjoyable and something that I think every young adult who wants to make a difference to their life and the lives of others, should experience. But for me, the football tournament was one of my highlights; the atmosphere was ten times more inspirational than anything you’d ever witness on a football pitch in Nottingham. Seeing children who lived in poverty and those with disabilities play together and watching the delight on their faces was the most rewarding experience. Since returning to the UK, I've thought about how I can continue to use my interest in football to create positive change, and I've decided to become a PE teacher and focus on working in deprived areas of the UK. 
George Cooper, HSB - Burkina Faso, January - March 2014

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