Feature: Botswana’s futsal park offers more than sports to children

GABORONE, May 9– Driven by the desire to use sports to address social challenges faced by underprivileged children in urban and rural communities, a group of young people with a love for sport and the environment came together and built Botswana’s FirstBontleng Futsal Park in 2014.. Swift Mpoloka, co-founder and chairman of the Pula Sports Development…

GABORONE, May 9 (Xinhua) — Driven by the desire to use sports to address social challenges faced by underprivileged children in urban and rural communities, a group of young people with a love for sport and the environment came together and built Botswana’s FirstBontleng Futsal Park in 2014.

Swift Mpoloka, co-founder and chairman of the Pula Sports Development Association, which is responsible for the FirstBontleng Futsal Park, told Xinhua that they realised early on the massive influence that sport has in community development as it can promote economic empowerment while keeping children from crime and substance abuse.

To date, the 100 percent solar-powered park that prides itself with 21 sheltering stinkwood trees, an underground water cistern that can hold up 50,000 litters of rainwater harvested using the surface of the football field, and flourishing vegetable and aquaponics gardens, has since benefited over 650 children within the community of Bontleng.

“Our football team has 86 student athletes aged from under 6 years old to under 18. They do enter and compete in national competitions,” said Mpoloka.

What motivates him and his team are the advantages of grassroots football on childhood development. The sport contributes to the reduction of depression and anxiety, while instilling confidence and resilience, especially at a time when COVID-19 has disrupted communities.

“We also have an early childhood development programme that empowers 72 children on a monthly basis,” said Mpoloka, adding that this was made possible by social impact partnerships with the Bontleng Village Development Committee (VDC), UNICEF, Now for Them and Learn To Play.

Through their partnership with Learn To Play, Mpoloka said they approach early childhood development at a child, caregiver, and community level.

Mothers, called Mamapreneurs, were trained to establish community-initiated playgroups. All play and learn resources they were given to run the playgroup at the park were developed primarily using recyclable and reusable materials, as well as natural materials from the children’s local environment.

The resources given also include a daily activity guide with culturally sustainable play and mindfulness at its core, a low-cost resource development guide, stories, and other learning tools.

For the Pula Sports Development Association, things were not always easy as they initially faced funding and environmental education problems.

“When we started, we faced resistance from the community level, public sector and private sector levels, as they did not understand the innovative, environmentally friendly infrastructure project we envisioned,” said Mpoloka.

However, after educating all relevant stakeholders, Mpoloka said the community buy-in was phenomenal.

What Mpoloka and his team are now planning to do is to implement their urban and rural community strategy of mushrooming off the grid community sports parks in communities that really need them across the country.

Climate action will continue to be a common factor in their projects as they want to empower children with the skills and knowledge, ensure sustainable change for the sake of generations that will come after them, he said.

“Being off the grid enabled us to survive droughts and has saved us the trouble of paying water and electricity bills. Sustainable Development Goal 2 is zero hunger, so pre COVID-19 we planted sweet potatoes, spinach, fresh herbs and pumpkin. Currently, we have an aquaponic system that has tilapia fish which offers the community protein,” he said.

The objective of their garden was to showcase and inspire backyard gardening, as they view sustenance farming as an important element in food security, he said.

The park also believes in recycling and segregating waste at source. The medical waste, tires, beer bottles and cans recycled before have since been used in the venue’s earthship construction.

The park also boasts of dry compost toilets that allow them to convert human waste into fertiliseras, opposed to using pit latrines that are detrimental to environmental and subsequent human health. Enditem

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