Sport is an integral part of the lives of Craig Stephen, Heather Mackintosh, Fiona Cooper and Ben Peddie, four students who will be travelling to Africa this summer to take part in a sports outreach programme. The Saint met them as they begin to raise money and prepare for their adventure.
Mr Stephen and Ms Mackintosh, both second years studying French, and Arabic, and philosophy respectively, are heading to Zambia with UK Sports Ideals. Mr Peddie and Ms Cooper, second and first year students studying maths and international relations, will be going to Stellenbosch in South Africa with the Saints Stellenbosch Outreach programme.
“Our aim is to improve the lives of the kids through coaching sport,” explained Mr Peddie, summing up the work both pairs will be doing.
Ms Mackintosh spoke about how she feels sport can help those in developing countries: “We want to help give them an escape. Like I use sport to escape university life when it gets too stressful, we want to give them a break and let them have some fun.” She explained that many of the people whom their programmes hope to reach do not get a lot of chances like this. “We want to give them the opportunity to play sport which they might not have had otherwise,” she said.
“HIV and malaria are big problems in Zambia and it’s a good way to teach them about these issues, through something as universal as sport.”
The Zambia project is now in its 10th year and coaches young people in a variety of sports. “We’ve made connections down there,” said Mr Stephen, “they kind of look forward to us coming out now.”
Though the Stellenbosch program – which coaches in football and rugby – is only in its second year, it has hopes of expansion in the future. “A lot of our efforts still just involve setting things up,” said Mr Peddie.
The students are clearly all deeply committed to what they do. “I’ve been volunteering for a long time now,” said Ms Mackintosh. “I’ve been doing local things, both back home and here [in St Andrews] and doing Scotland wide programs, so I wanted to do something I’d never done before.”
Mr Stephen has previously been involved in similar coaching projects: “I did something called ‘League 2014’ last year, which was a similar idea, only with coaching locally. It was about teaching high school kids how to run their own sports festivals and events.” Mr Peddie also has years of experience in coaching which he feels will help his efforts in South Africa: “I grew up in St Andrews, I’ve been coaching here my whole life.”
Despite their experience, the students know that the project will be challenging, with Ms Cooper commenting: “My friends who went last year say you go out to a village with about 50 kids and none of them speaks English. You’ve got two balls and you’ve got to figure out how to teach them. It’s going to be much more interesting and challenging.”
Mr Stephen also acknowledged the difficulties of working in deprived areas, saying that “for the last two weeks we go to a rural village to coach with no running water, no electricity. We’ll be living in a hut.”
When asked about their motivation and why they would want to spend their summer coaching in Zambia or South Africa, Mr Stephen answered that it is a good way of using their skills in sports. “It’s a way to do something that will benefit people, without doing something that we have no idea how to do,” he said. Ms Mackintosh added than an incentive for her is that “all our funding goes to the kids.
“It’s all about sport and coaching them, the money doesn’t go to a company or an organisation.”
Ms Cooper explained that, for her, setting an example for other girls and showing that they can play sport too is important. “I went to South Africa last year, to work in a children’s home for six weeks, and the idea that a girl would do sport there is seen as completely crazy,” she said. “We want to inspire some of the girls out there to get involved in sport.”
For the first six weeks, the Zambia team will be working in Lusaka, the capital. They will be moving from school to school, working in different areas of the city.
As for the South African team, they will be staying in Stellenbosch but also coaching in the surrounding townships. “A lot of them are really poor areas,” said Mr Peddie, with Ms Cooper adding that they would love to establish connections with students there: “Stellenbosch is a university campus town, a lot like St Andrews, so we’re hoping to build some links there.” “Our project hasn’t been going as long so for us it’s about seeing what relationships and progress we can build ourselves,” added Mr Peddie.
Because of their own experiences, the four students are clearly passionate about how sport can help people. Now they want to be a part of this by teaching others. “I started coaching when I was 16 or 17,” said Mr Stephen. “I wasn’t the most outgoing person, but now I can walk into a room full of people, know what I need to do, and not be scared to say ‘okay you need to listen to me now, do this, do that’.”
“Sport in general helps improve your communication skills, you have to tell people things in a way everyone can understand. It’s also a great way to build relationships as well,” enthused Ms Mackintosh. “I help run some of the kids clubs that the University runs on a Wednesday morning and it’s a good way for kids to be looked after. Instead of going to childcare, they can be doing something active.”
Mr Peddie also explained his passion for sport, stating: “I think that all sport is a good way to build discipline, teamwork, and communication skills, and it’s good to be able to give that back to other people.”
All four students will need to raise a huge amount of money for their trips; Mr Stephen and Ms Mackintosh have to raise £8,000 whilst Ms Cooper and Mr Peddie have to come up with £12,000. They are undertaking a range of fundraising efforts including a charity six-a-side game of football, bake sales, and running cloakrooms for charity, with other sports themed efforts such as a Six Nations event at the Union.
“We’ve got plenty of fundraising plans, it’s just trying to get them all to fit in around each other,” Ms Mackintosh explained. “We’ve all got our own personal fundraising efforts too. In March when I’m back home, I’ll be having a fundraising event at my local bowling club and all my friends and family are coming.”
When asked what would make the trip a success for them personally, the charitable students had a variety of responses. “A success for the project, would be for the tournament at the end to be a major success, but in the wider context, I think it would just be seeing kids having fun, and doing sport and enjoying themselves,” said Mr Stephen.
Ms Mackintosh spoke about building a community spirit and helping people to enjoy themselves: “getting the communities together and just helping people to relax and forget their problems, even just for an hour session, would be great.”
For Mr Peddie, success would be to help the Stellenbosch programme grow. “I would really like to create something new,” he said, “maybe a tournament at the end, like the Zambia project. That would be really good.”
Finally, Ms Cooper simply added: “I think that if even one child comes up to you at the end and says ‘I actually really enjoyed that’ then we’ve made a difference. I think that would make the whole thing worth it.”
The students are still months away from their leaving dates of 31 May for Stellenbosch and July for Zambia, but they are already hugely enthused and excited to go.
Asked if, having started this project, they would consider doing something similar in the future, they replied – almost in unison – ‘definitely’.