Friday, 10 February 2012

The project that’s making Bellamy a “better human being”

You may have gathered from previous blog entries that I’m a staunch Liverpool fan, so naturally I’m a big supporter of Craig Bellamy. He may be 32 but he’s currently one of our best players.

The neckless Welshman has his critics, though. He probably has the biggest mouth in football and causes controversy wherever he plays.

However, it seems there’s something we can all like about Bellers: the work he’s doing in Sierra Leone. Roughly the same size as Wales, the West African nation is recovering from a horrific civil war, which lasted more than a decade. Life expectancy is just 48 and the likelihood of a woman dying in childbirth is greater than in any other country.

“There’s so much poverty, it can either scare you or it can inspire you to do something about it,” Craig says on Craig Bellamy’s African Dream, a documentary that recently aired on ITV. “Thankfully, it inspired me to want to do something about it, and if I didn’t I think I’d regret it for the rest of my life.”

The Craig Bellamy Foundation’s primary focus is education, but it is also working to improve healthcare, reduce poverty, promote human rights, integrate people with disabilities, empower women and work with troubled teens.

The not-for-profit foundation runs Sierra Leone’s only professional football academy. Built on a 15-acre site in Tombo, which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean, the academy features an international boarding school and a full-size grass football pitch.

Sixteen children from across the country have been awarded five-year scholarships to “live, learn and play football” at the academy. The rules are simple: if you don’t turn up for school, you don’t get to train or play in the league.

The football development programme is staffed by a team of internationally qualified staff and the foundation helps its rising stars to obtain professional football contracts at the end of their scholarships.

“If people think we’re passionate back home about football, it doesn’t touch the surface on this. They know every team, every player; they adore their football,” says Craig. And, since almost all the children at the academy were born during the war, he acknowledges that the fact they are alive at all is “a miracle”.

The Liverpool player has also launched a campaign in Makeni to encourage girls to attend school, and it’s already experiencing tremendous growth. He says: “Sometimes in Africa women don’t get looked on [in the same way] as women back home; they don’t get as much say as our women do, so it’s important that we change that.

“A lot of the girls here adore football as well so it’s important for us to give them the opportunity, same as the boys… These girls have gone on to become community leaders; they’ve gone on to have a big say in these areas and it’s changed a lot of opinions of women in their areas… It’s just been worth its weight in gold.”

And it doesn’t end there. Bellamy recently met with a group of amputee players; casualties of the tragic war. He’s determined to give these guys the same opportunities as the able-bodied people he’s helping.

Spending a week in Sierra Leone back in 2007, the Premier League star immediately “fell in love with the place” and has since met with the President and Sports Minister to get their input. He hasn’t just thrown money at the project to gain notoriety (although he’s already forked out more than a million); he has actually spent time with the people, whom he cares deeply about.

Craig is very different on and off the pitch. He’s actually a lot shyer in real life than you might think and claims setting up the foundation has completely taken him out of his comfort zone. He’s treated like a local hero, but this clearly makes him uncomfortable, and (to me at least) he appears endearingly bashful and reserved.

“I feel it does change me every time I come out here,” he says. “It does inspire me a lot, the effect I’m able to have on one or two of the people here; the opportunity I’m trying to give them makes me feel a better human being.

"So as much as I’m trying to improve these as human beings, I’m becoming a better human being as well.”

Love him or hate him, Bellamy wants the people of Sierra Leone to have a better future and is doing his bit to make it happen. The on-pitch loudmouth himself couldn’t argue with that!

Visit the Craig Bellamy Foundation to find out more.

1 comment:

  1. Good article, the reason he didn't wanna take a pay cut and leave Man City was because he promised so much money to the various foundations he runs. Basically he sacrificed his want to play first team football for the people of Sierra Leone.