Interview: Thomas Riganga
Thomas Riganga's big passion is football. After playing as a professional in Kenya, he Decided to become a coach in his hometown Arusha in Tanzania. In 2011, he met with Alfred Itaeli, who had started his own football academy two years before in Arusha: the Arusha Future Stars. Riganga was very convinced of the project and soon Itaeli asked him to become a coach for his Future Stars Academy. In the mean time the two have built a close friendship based on this shared passion for football, and together with a team of other coaches they lead the Academy to train Tanzania's talents of the future. But Arusha Future Stars became more than that. At least just as important as performing on the pitch is the social development of the pupils. Their school attendance and results are being monitored, and learning social skills is just important as learning shooting and dribbbling. In Arusha we talk with Thomas Riganga about football, social development and the Future of his Future Stars.
An interview with Thomas Riganga:
I General Information
a. Can you shortly describe the genesis / history of the Future Stars-project?
"When he was young, Alfred, founder of Future Stars, left Tanzania with a scholarship. He was allowed to study in the US, and played football for his high school there. After a fine career as a semi-pro in Florida and surrounding Alfred decided to return to Tanzania, to pursue his passion and do something for the place where he comes from. In 2009 he therefore founded Future Stars, a football academy which should give children in Arusha the same opportunities he had.
In 2009, it all started with organizing a football summer camp for children in Arusha, which were free from school. A mix of students of international and local schools came to the camp. It was a success, but after the summer there were a lot of kids who wanted to continue playing football! This is when Alfred founded the first under16 team for Future Stars. The purpose of the academy was in principle the teaching of modern football to youth. Meanwhile we have more than 200 players. A lot of the players that were selected for the first U16 are now playing in our U20 group, the oldest team of the academy. There are even Future Stars players, playing for the national youth teams from Tanzania! "In 2011 we had 6 players of the Future Stars in Tanzania under 18," Thomas says proudly. There have been collaborations with professional clubs in Tanzania, who regularly ask to send the best players of the Stars on try-out.
The long term vision of the project is to one day have a completely independent academy with its own complex, a nice group of trainers and a stable funding. That is where we’re working on now."
Thomas himself has joined the Academy after 2 years, 4 years ago. He joined as coach, and when he met Alfred. Alfred asked him if he could be a voluntary trainer but soon he came more often, and there was a click between Alfred and Thomas. Thomas got to do a coaching course at the expense of the AFS, as they do for all coaches.
b. What has the impact of the project since then, on the target group and local community and surroundings?
"The impact on children is very important. Football was once the main goal, but now social development of our pupils is at least as important. In our academy they learn social skills, but in addition we also provide all the basic necessities: school-fees for example. Our main rule is "No school, no play’’, but the parents of some players simply cannot afford school fees. Then we try to jump in when we have the means to do so. " In addition, the pupils are guided in life in Tanzania. "We bring our players a certain degree of discipline on and off the field. We also help to keep them on the right path, stay in school: no school, no play is a good stick!
It's nice to see that this discipline now provides a healthy social control. The older players keep an eye on the younger guys, if they do go to school, and when they do not see them, they are addressed during training. "The boys now also care for each other. Sometimes a student just needs a scolding, but at other times there is more to it. Then you go on home visits and the parents appear to be unable to pay school fees. Then Future Stars try to jump in whenever possible."
c. What has motivated you, personally, to start your development project?
"It's a combination of love for football and the desire to help the social development of the children in my own environment," said Thomas. "I want the children to learn not only about football, but also about other things in life." For Thomas, his love for children is important, and besides, he is convinced that he well knows how to deal with them: positivity, but also firm if necessary. I know how to be a father but also a friend for them."
d. What is, according to you, the strongest point of the project?
"There is great power in our main rule:" No school no play. A simple rule, but it works very well! The football players love football so much that they really go to school! The older players now additionally help on their own initiative with the observance of this rule. That's what we want! "
A strong point is now also that we start helping the older players in the academy. "The guys onder20 are often finished their high school but have no connection with work or further education. Future Stars therefore offers computercourses, to learn new skills. We also teach them the skills to train the younger teams. So we kill two birds with one stone: the young people learn new things, and we train new trainers for the future of the academy. "
e. What is, according to you, the biggest challenge / point of improvement for the project?
"What we currently see as the main problem is that we have to work with very limited resources. We'd love to have more coaches and trainers, and to offer them more courses. In addition, we would like to have the facilities to improve, eventually to really have our own complex. This is a great challenge, and it is therefore important that we work towards a more stable funding for the organization. "
II. Development (aid) - north / south relations
a. What is your idea on development?
"For me personally, it is something in which you try to help as many people as possible. I think you always have to start small to build from there, step by step. It is important not only to look at the now, but also to the long term. For us this means not only focus on the training of good players, but also focus on educating good people. It is important that we help the children, for a good future. Development is to start small, and eventually try to grow towards your goal. Education here is the core, and in the broadest sense of the word: in football, in school and in life."
b. There is a lot of Western organizations starting development projects in Africa. What is your general vision on this development-aid?
"The world is now so connected that one person in your network can make a big difference for you. This is now possible, with connections all over the world, and they can make a big difference for a small project. Places that are more developed should be connected to places that are less developed. Many Western countries have more knowledge and experience, and nowadays it can be shared! That's very important. Western organizations can be very valuable in other parts of the world, by making those connections and knowledge sharing."
c. What, according to you, are the main pitfalls / challenges for Western organizations that want to develop other / foreign communities?
"We need to manage our organizations. You must first have a plan. We need funds, but these should be used properly! This is sometimes still a problem in Africa. Western organizations need this monitor this better, keep an eye on where their help is going to.
Some people also just come here and want to help, but do not now to much about Africa and all its circumstances. Their intention is basically good, but often, life gets really hard for them or it turns out very hard to achieve their goals or maintain here at all. It is therefore important to use the local knowledge that is present in Africa."
d. What, according to you, are the main pitfalls / challenges for African's that want to develop their own communities?
"For us, I can say: Alfred is not really a typical African. He grew up in Western US, and knows how life is there. He has a good education and a lot of experience on how development can take place. This, most Africans do not start a project, and make it more difficult. This is mainly a lack of training that much Africans are lacking compared to the Western world, I think. "
e. The In2Afrika Foundation takes the civil society as main principles, in which small scale and local practice are the two most important principles. What is your opinion on our starting point?
"If you want to help, you should go to the local people, because they often need the help. However, it is also difficult to let locals themselves solve their problems. Sometimes you will be better off using a higher power to help them solve their problems. For example, if parents are not able to pay schoolfees, then you should better pay the fee to the school directly than to give the money to children or parents. Sometimes you need to take decisions for people.
If people come from outside to help in a particular area, it is also important that they get help from locals. Because locals know what problems are holding up the community, and what the best solutions might be! "
III. Image of Africa
a. What is, according to you, the current prevailing Western image of the African continent?
"We have experienced the impact of misconceptions about Africa up close. Alfred has a small safari company around Kilimanjaro, but when the news about Ebola in West Africa spread across the world, bookings from America and Europe were canceled en masse. And while Europe is closer to the Ebola area than most of Tanzania!
Many people who go to Africa to do this in a way that they still get a wrong picture of the continent. They fly here, do a hugely expensive, luxury safari, sleep in the largest and most beautiful hotels, beautiful parks and see perfectly healthy animals and then step back from the taxi on the plane home. These people do not see the real Africa. They all think everything looked good and if I have to pay so much money for my safari and my hotel, then it will go well there. Gives them a false picture of the continent. Through this naivety people do not see that much still has a lot to happen in Africa! "
b. What's your opinion on these images?
"So there is a difference in the existing image of the continent, between people from the west who fly in, do a safari in and go out, and people who really get to experience our continent. The first group will say; oh, all goes well in Africa, I've left a lot of money and the animals looked nice.
The other group will witness the real Africa. This is a pure experience, but this does not make things easier. They see reality, that there is much work to be done. That might be a less pleasant image, but it is the reality."
c. How should this image be changed?
The image that the world outside of our continent is also clouded because politics in Africa is often not transparent and not everything that happened is known in Africa. Things are often a facade. Politics is the first thing that needs to change, otherwise the continent cannot move forward. There should also be focused mainly on education. Better-educated people who can bring the country forward and spread the correct image of Africa! "
d. What does the Future Stars project do to create an image of the project and of the African continent in general?
"We use football as a binding factor to help our environment! Together with other organizations, we discuss how we can do better. By focusing on education in a broad sense, we not only train the players but also the leaders of the future!
As I said; Education is key to everything, including the change of our image in the West. We are committed to education, so as to make a difference. In the long term, this will change our image. "